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Full text of "1872 : letters written by a gentleman in Boston to his friend in Paris, describing the Great Fire"

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NUMBER W-7(j, 


The fact is painfully familiar, that on the 9th 
of November last, on a calm and mild evening, a 
fire broke out in the building numbered 83 and 
85 Summer Street, and raged without control till 
the afternoon of the following day, spreading 
through the best business portions of Boston, 
covering sixty-five acres with ruins, destroying 
776 buildings, assessed at the value of $13,500,000, 
and consuming merchandise and other personal 
property estimated at more than sixty millions of 
dollars. — Report of the Commissioners appointed 
to investigate the Cause and Management of the 
Great Fire in Boston. 








IN 1872 141 









From the drawing by Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly 
Nov. 30, 1872. 



From a photograph in the Boston Athenoeum 












From Harper's Weekly, June 22, 1872 



From Frank Leslie's Weekly, Nov. 30, 1872 




From a photograph in the Bostonian Society 


From Harper's Weekly, Nov. 30, 1872 


From a lithograph in the possession of the State Street Trust Co. 




From Frank Leslie's Weekly, Nov. 23, 1872 


From Frank Leslie's Weekly, Nov. 30, 1872 



From Conwell's History of the Great Fire 


From a photograph in the Bostonian Society 



From Carleton's Story of the Great Fire 


From Carleton's Story of the Great Fire 


From Frank Leslie's Weekly, Nov. 30, 1872 


HERALD," NOVEMBER 10, 1872 105 




From a photograph in the Boston Athenceum 


From Frank Leslie's Weekly, Nov. 30, 1872. 


From a photograph in the Boston Athenceum 


From a photograph in the Boston Athenxum 


From Harper's Weekly, Dec. 7, 1872 




From a photograph in the Boston Athenaeum 



From newspaper cutting in the Boston Athenceum 

The cuts in the text, except where otherwise indicated, are from the little guide- 
hook, ''Boston Illustrated," published by James R. Osgood & Co., for Peace 
Jubilee visitors in 1872. 




1 HE member of the Harvard Class of 1872 who 
left Boston upon his graduation to return in this 
year of grace would find much that is strange and 
unfamiliar to his eyes. Thirty-seven years have 
passed since he threaded the well-known crooked 
streets; he has almost reached his threescore 
years, and his opportunities and achievements are 
all behind him. The world has changed with him, 
and even in this most leisurely and conservative 
of American cities, he would pause bewildered 
upon many well-known spots, and look in vain for 
the old landmarks and accustomed sights of his 
boyhood days. 

The Christ Church chimes still clang their old- 
time melodies above the huddled roofs of the 



North End. Faneuil Hall still gazes blankly 
down the crowded market streets ; the Old State 
House yet defies the struggling traffic that curses 
it with every day. The Old South and King's 
Chapel hold unmolested their busy corners, the 
Common spreads its grassy acres in the city's 
throbbing heart, and the Park Street spire yet 
towers, a graceful landmark, across the broad 
reach of ancient greenery. But the fleeting years 
have wrought changes in and about these time- 
honored sites. Strange people chatter in unknown 
tongues beneath the Old North steeple, the Old 
South is buried in the midst of towering structures 
that play strange pranks with its bewildered 
weather-vane, the Old State House is pierced and 
mined by walks and tunnels that make for rapid 
transit. The Common has resisted stoutly all en- 
croachments, but some of the outer walks are gone, 
the fences and great gates on the south and east 
have been removed, the Old Elm has fallen, and 
the Paddock elms are now but a pleasant memory. 
Indeed, Tremont Street from School to Boylston 
contains unaltered hardly a vestige of the archi- 

[4 1 


tecture of 1872. True, the low-pillared front of St. 
Paul's stands, a lonely reminder of the past, but 
it has lost its old-time character and expression, 
engulfed as it is in the shadow of its high-piled 


modern neighbors. Nothing is left to suggest the 
horse cars jogging at snail's pace in endless col- 
umn to and from the crowded walks under the 
Paddock elms. It is not easy to reconstruct an 
exact picture of the famous street as it was in the 
days before corporate consolidations and elec- 



tricity, the subway and the referendum, had revo- 
lutionized the street transportation system of the 

In 1872 the broad area that divides Court 
Street from Tremont Row had just been opened 
by the removal of the shapeless mass of Scollay's 
Building, while, walking down Cornhill, one passed 
into Washington Street, which turned sharply 
eastward at the Cornhill corner, to terminate in 
Dock Square. Devonshire Street in these days 
was continued from State to Dock Square only 
by a narrow footway lined by tiny shops. State 
Street itself, now the centre of the loftiest and most 
variegated architecture which the city contains, 
was then the abode of low harmonious blocks of 
gray stone that gave an impression of dignity and 
permanence. Post Office Square was undreamed 
of in 1872, and Congress Street from Water to 
Milk was a mean and narrow thoroughfare. The 
graceful curve of Franklin Street, with its long, 
imposing commercial blocks and its scattering 
trees and flagpole, ended in these days at Federal. 
There were dwellings in Purchase Street, and in 









12; ^ 

H o 
m Em 




I— I 







Summer Street below Church Green, while a 
handful of people still lived in Bedford Street and 
Temple Place. Arch and Hawley Streets were 


hardly more than lanes, and the former extended 
only from Franklin to Summer. It is hard to re- 
member, now, how narrow and crooked the busy 



streets used to be within the compass of that 
famous sixty acres that was long known as the 
Burned District. The unpretentious mass of 
Hovey's store, the stone building on the northerly 
corner of Summer and Washington streets, and the 
white f a9ade of the MacuUar-Parker Company, are 
almost the only survivals of Boston's business sec- 
tion that was swept by the great fire of 1872. 

The Back Bay in those days was not built on 
beyond Dartmouth Street, and ugly gaps yawned 
between there and the Public Garden. Standing 
in the Garden, it was a short look up the Avenue, 
between lines of feeble saplings, to the dreary 
wastes that stretched away toward the Mill Dam. 
Copley Square was a sandy desert, where work on 
the Art Museum was just beginning. But three 
spires broke the Mansard monotony of this sec- 
tion: the brownstone shaft of the Arlington Street 
Church, and the more modern steeples of the Cen- 
tral Congregational and the First Unitarian, both 
on Berkeley Street. The South End was still the 
abode of a considerable portion of the solid men of 
Boston, and there was an abundance of snug for- 

[8 ] 


tunes and a plenitude of simple living in all the 
pleasant streets that crossed Tremont from Dover 
southward to Northampton Street. Columbus Ave- 


nue was completed only between Berkeley Street 
and West Chester Park, although work was being 
pushed on the extension into Park Square. The 
fate of the avenue was still trembling in the bal- 

[ 9] 


ance. Here lived many a worthy citizen, but 
Beacon Hill pronounced it shoddy, while fashion 
had declared for the windy half-built streets of the 
new-made land. Business had not invaded Boyl- 
ston Street, and Beacon Hill was still the home of 
good old Boston families who were only beginning 
to be tempted away from its calm and dignified 
seclusion. Perhaps our graduate of 1872 would 
find to-day more of the Boston he remembered upon 
Beacon Hill than in any other section of the town. 
The noble spire of the First Baptist Church has 
gone, the Derne Street reservoir has been levelled, 
the State House has been enlarged and despoiled 
of its old-time charm, but the quiet streets on the 
Common slope are as they were, shaded by the 
same trees and lined by the same houses that have 
been the delight and pride of generations of dis- 
tinguished Bostonians. Roxbury was thinly peo- 
pled in its southern portion. Dorchester was 
more rural than Milton is to-day, a rolling open 
country, village-dotted, where stone walls still 
climbed far- viewing hills, and where old-time farm- 
houses, with their great barns, were gradually giv- 

[ 10 ] 


ing way to the fine park-like places of Boston 
business men. The historic "corners" and "the 


upper" and "the lower road" did not belie their 
names in 1872. 

Street transportation was furnished in these 
days by four distinct horse-railway companies, 
the Metropolitan, the Cambridge, the Middlesex, 
running to Charlestown and the northern sub- 

[ 11 ] 


urbs, and the Broadway, which served South 
Boston, portions of which still formed attractive 
residential quarters. In addition to these, the 
Highland Railway, with its brilliant plaid-painted 
cars, began to operate in the autumn of 1872. In 
the cars of these corporations, dimly lighted by 
kerosene lamps in two corners, passengers shivered 
and shook, with icy feet poked deep in dirty straw, 
while the conductor's punch rang merrily as he 
collected his six-cent fare. Perhaps no sound was 
ever more suggestive of a great metropolitan com- 
munity than the jangling of the horse-car bells 
and the clatter of the hoofs upon the well-worn 
cobblestones. Cars left the Tremont House every 
hour, for Brookline Village, and for Dorchester 
l)y way of Warren Street on the same sched- 
ule. On Washington Street the Metropolitan 
encountered the competition of Mr. Hathorne's 
Citizens Line of red coaches, which jolted their 
leisurely way from the stables in Northampton 
Street across the river to the thriving city of 

The facilities for reaching and leaving the city 

[ 12 ] 


were regarded as ample in 1872. The Eastern, 
the Fitchburg, and the Boston and Lowell departed 
from stations in Causeway Street. The splendid 
new depot of the last-named corporation was in 


process of erection, and its massive proportions 
were already indicated with sufficient clearness to 
emphasize the shortcomings of its dingy, square- 
towered neighbor, which reflected no credit upon 
the Eastern management. The massive stone 
castle of the Fitchburg, with its great hall up- 

[ 13 ] 


stairs redolent with memories of Jenny Lind, still 
served its purpose well. It stands to-day, and, 
though put to menial uses, wears all the rugged 
aspect that distinguished it in the time when the 
carriages of the wealthy and cultured stood lined 
up before it waiting for the concert to end. The 


Boston and Maine gates closed and opened in 
Causeway Street, blockading and releasing traffic 
as the trains rumbled in and out of the Hay- 
market Square station, then the most commodious 
and best situated of all the city depots. At the 
foot of Summer Street, the Boston, Hartford and 

[ 14 ] 


Erie received its patrons in a shabby wooden 
structure that reflected but too vividly its dis- 
tressed financial condition. The Old Colony and 
Newport was housed in the building still standing 
in Kneeland Street, a good station then, familiar 
to South Shore suburbanites and to patrons of the 
popular Fall River Line. The Boston and Albany 
ran in and out beneath the twin sheds that fronted 
on Beach Street opposite the United States Hotel. 
There were two day expresses for New York, 
via Springfield, one leaving at nine a. m., the 
other at three p. m. Both these flyers carried 
drawing-room cars and made the run in eight 
hours. The knell of the Boston and Providence 
station in Pleasant Street had been sounded by 
the extension of Columbus Avenue to Park 
Square. It was on the eve of being torn down, 
and work on the finest railway structure in the 
United States had just been started on the westerly 
side of the new street. The Boston and Provi- 
dence ran four trains each way between these 
cities in 1872. Besides these, there was the steam- 
boat express of the Providence line, and two day 

[ 15 ] 


expresses for New York, which, hke those of the 
Albany, ran on an eight-hour schedule. 

The Cunard line maintained a weekly service 
with Liverpool, calling at Queenstown. One had 
the choice of the staunch and swift mail-steamers 


Malta, Olympus, Siberia, Batavia, Hecla, and 
Samaria ; and, under captains picked by Mr. 
Mclver's judicious care, they were certain to make 
their destination in ten or twelve days' time. 

The traveller arriving in Boston in these days 
found some of the best hotel accommodations in the 
country. There was Young's, the United States, 

[ 16 ] 


the Revere, and the Tremont, all deservedly fa- 
mous. Other well-known establishments were the 
American, the largest of the local hostelries and the 
recognized headquarters of the shoe and leather 


trade, the Adams, the Marlboro' and the St. 
James at the South End. Then, too, there were the 
"French Flat" houses, among which the Berke- 
ley, the Boylston, the Pelham, and the Conti- 
nental were preeminent. But the hotel "par ex- 

[ 17] 


cellence was the Parker House, the Mecca of all 
who rejoiced in good living. It was Artemus Ward 
who declared that Harvard College was '' pleasantly 
situated in the bar-room of Parker's." However 
much we may question the good taste or the 


geographical accuracy of this statement, it is 
worth quoting as an evidence of the popularity 
of the School Street hotel forty years ago. A New 
York journal in jocose mood declared at this 
time that in Boston "nearly all the hotels have 

[ 18 ] 


graveyards attached to them. Whether these 
burial places are the natural result of the too rich 
cuisine of the various establishments, or whether 
people who do not pay their hotel bills are sum- 
marily disposed of in Boston, is a matter we leave 
to conjecture." It must be admitted that the 
Parker House looking out upon the tombs of 
King's Chapel yard, the Tremont overlooking the 
old Granary, the Pelham hard by the burying- 
ground in the Common, and the St. James ad- 
joining the cemetery near Blackstone Square, gave 
some color to the genial suggestion of the New 
York editor. 

The schools of Boston were deservedly famous, 
and served as models for the rest of the nation. 
The new Girls' High and Normal on West New- 
ton Street was regarded then as a splendid ex- 
ample of a modern school edifice. The Boston 
Latin and English High occupied jointly the 
granite building on Bedford Street that was re- 
moved years since to allow the extension of Har- 
rison Avenue. Dr. Francis Gardner presided over 
the Latin, and it is fitting that mention should be 

[ 19 1 


made of him as a picturesque figure in the educa- 
tional Hfe of the city, a strong austere man who 
pointed the way to duty with his rod. 

Boston in 1872 was still a Protestant commun- 
ity. The Catholic churches were thriving, and 


gave undoubted promise of the vast growth which 
was in store for them ; but the religious creeds of 
the fathers were still the dominant factors in local 
religious life. The Reverend W. H. H. Murray 
of Adirondack fame held the Park Street pulpit; 

[ 20 ] 


Dr. Fulton of bellicose tendencies preached to 
immense throngs in Tremont Temple. The Old 
South society still occupied their meeting-house 
at the corner of Washington and Milk, although 
contemplating an early removal to the Back Bay. 
Dr. Blagden was the pastor here, assisted by Dr. 
Manning. Phillips Brooks was the new rector of 
Trinity Church, and his parishioners gathered 
from far and near to worship in the picturesque 
old pile on Summer Street. James Freeman 
Clarke, Edward Everett Hale, Rufus Ellis, Dr. 
Neale, Dr. Herrick, Dr. Miner, Dr. Vinton, and 
Dr. Bartol, were a few of the many notable 
clergymen prominent in Boston at this time. The 
South End churches were at the height of their 
prosperity. Dr. Webb at the Shawmut Congre- 
gational had perhaps one of the wealthiest and 
most substantial constituencies in the city. 

In its issue of June 22, 1872, Harper s 
Weekly remarked, ''The visitor, especially if he 
is a New Yorker, will be curious to know how the 
Thespian art flourishes in the ancient strong- 
hold of the Puritans. The fact remains that Bos- 

[21 ] 


ton, in this year of grace 1872, lias five theatres in 
successful operation, with numerous halls devoted 
to itinerant entertainments more or less calcu- 
lated to corrupt ye youth of ye town. The Boston, 


the Museum, and the Globe are well-managed 
establishments. The Museum and the Globe 
have most excellent stock companies, and put their 
pieces upon the boards with an elegance and 
fitness of appointments unknown elsewhere out- 

[ 22 ] 


side of New York. The Boston has a passable 
stock company, depending chiefly upon stars, for- 
eign and domestic. It is at this house that Edwin 
Booth and Joseph Jefferson always play on their 
professional visits, no other theatre in the city 
being sufficiently spacious to hold their audiences. 
It was here Mr. Fechter made his debut in blonde 
wig and broken English. If Bunker Hill is 'the 
place where Warren fell,' the Boston Museum is 
certainly the place where another Warren may be 
said to have risen and culminated. Mr. William 
Warren is, and has been for many years, the lead- 
ing card at the Museum. The visitor is advised to 
go and see him, especially when he plays Triplet 
in 'Masks and Faces.' The Howard Athenaeum 
is the democratic house of the ballet girl and the 
gymnast, and the refuge of the forlorn negro min- 
strel. The St. James is somewhat difficult to 
characterize. Ever since its opening night, some 
six or seven years since, it has carried on a sort 
of feverish flirtation with the public, but has not 
succeeded in winning any lasting favor." 

It is always good to see ourselves as others see 

[ 23 ] 


us, and Bostonians could hardly complain of this 
characterization of their playhouses by the New 
York weekly. Mention might well have been 
made of the w ax-works and curios in the Museum 



lobby, which drew many a rigid Puritan to the 
threshold of the pit. The great organ in Music 
Hall was the admiration of all those who visited 
the city in 1872. It played its part melodiously 
in the concerts of the Handel and Haydn Society, 

[ 24 ] 


and of the newly formed Apollo Club. It looked 
down in silent dignity upon the audiences which 
attended the Lyceum and Old Bay State lecture 
courses, and in silent contempt upon the bazaars, 
fairs, and shows, which invaded its classic domain. 
The Boston Almanac concluded its "Chronicle 
of Events" for 1872 in the following words : "The 
last days of the year were the coldest of the same 
time within the past fifty years. Great storms, 
great fires, disasters by railway, and shipwrecks, 
were unusually numerous during the year." It 
might have been added that intense heat as well 
as intense cold had been experienced, the summer 
being almost unprecedented in the soaring flights 
of the thermometer and in the violence and de- 
structiveness of the electrical storms. On Novem- 
ber 11, inspired by the gruesome Ellis murder, 
the Boston Globe discussed editorially "Epi- 
demics of Crime," asserting that ''the present 
seems to be one of the periods only too familiar to 
students of the morbid anatomy of human society 
when crime becomes at once more prevalent and 
malignant than usual." The phenomenon that 

[ 25 ] 


interested the Globe inspired numerous psychical 
dissertations on the part of the American press. 
There were scandals, horrors, and disasters in 
plenty, as one may realize by turning the dis- 
reputable files of the Day's Doings and the Police 
News. These sheets should have reaped a rich 
harvest in 1872, as they encountered little com- 
petition, the Yellow Press being then a thing un- 
born. The enormities of the Tweed Ring were 
agitating the public mind in 1872, and the Credit 
Mobilier scandals were a universal topic of dis- 
cussion, as they were sure to be in the heat of the 
presidential campaign. People seemed conscious 
that the time was " out of joint ' ' ; business men 
were feverish and worried, although few suspected 
how swiftly their affairs were drifting into panic 
and disaster. 

But the year 1872 will always recall to the 
Bostonian the more cheerful recollections of the 
World's Peace Jubilee, which crowded the city 
with guests from all parts of the Union. Imbedded 
in the sandy wastes of the Back Bay, the hideous 
Coliseum Building was packed daily by enthusias- 

[ 26 ] 











tic thousands, among whom were the President 
of the United States, and Mr. Greeley, his Demo- 
cratic opponent in the approaching national cam- 
paign. The singing of Madame Peschka-Leut- 
ner will always be an inspiring memory, and the 
appearance of Herr Johann Strauss was a notable 
event. Our vanity was piqued by the fine play- 
ing of the great band of the British Grenadier 
Guard, under Dan Godfrey's direction, and by the 
no less masterly work of the other foreign organ- 
izations, the band of the Kaiser Franz Regiment 
of the German Army and that of the Garde 
Republicaine from Paris. But it was the Anvil 
Chorus that took the public ear, and while the 
cannon roared, the bands crashed, the huge chorus 
labored, and the perspiring firemen swung their 
heavy hammers, the windows of quiet dwellings 
beyond the Charles rattled in their casements. 
Who can forget the daily soaring of the great bal- 
loon, and the side-shows rampant with freaks and 
monstrosities that girdled this vast ugly temple 
dedicated to Peace and Apollo ? 

Boston in 1872 covered a territory of less than 



thirty square miles, and embraced a population of 
250,000 souls. Roxbury had been annexed in 
1868, Dorchester in 1870, while Charlestown, 
Brighton, and West Roxbury still maintained their 
separate existences. William Gaston was Mayor, 
supported by an Aldermanic Board of twelve 
members and a Common Council numbering 

It is only fair to say that the baneful influence 
of politics was to some extent discernible in the 
administration of our civic affairs thirty-seven 
years ago, and the disastrous events of 1872 served 
to lay bare instances of inefficiency that had their 
root in conditions that have always existed under 
democratic systems of government. But the city 
fathers were for the most part men of standing 
and responsibility in the community, and Boston 
suffered more from their narrow conservatism 
and conscientious economies than from anything 
suggestive of that gross evil the modern name for 
which is "graft." 

Boston in 1872 took pride in her civic adminis- 
tration, and was inclined to be thankful that she 

[29 ] 


was not as other cities. It needed no argument to 
convince her that her schools and public institutions 
were beyond compare, that the intelhgence and vir- 
tue of her people and the honor of her courts would 
ever be a barrier to such scandals as convulsed 
New York, and that the solid structures that lined 
her streets, and the alert and well-equipped fire de- 
partment that was ever ready at her call, were 
proof against disasters of the sort which had over- 
whelmed Chicago. It is sad to think that this com- 
placency of the good old city was after all but 
the pride that goes before a fall. However strong 
the bulwark of civic virtue that preserved her 
from moral contamination, the old year was not to 
be rung out until her vaunted fire department 
had been weighed in the balance and found want- 
ing. The dismal scenes of Chicago were to be in 
a measure reenacted among the granite palaces of 
her merchants, and, depleted in purse, wounded 
in pride, but with faith in herself unabated, she 
was to be the recipient of condolences and of ten- 
ders of aid from a great-hearted and sympathizing 



1 HE paid fire department at this time consisted 
of four hundred and seventy-five men, supervised 
by a committee of the city government, and di- 
rectly commanded by a chief engineer and fifteen 
assistants, who were appointed by the City Council. 
The force comprised both call and permanent 
members, the former class largely predominating, 
and was organized into twenty-one steam fire- 
engine companies, seven hook-and-ladder com- 
panies, and eleven detached hose companies. 
East Boston, South Boston, and Roxbury had 
each three engines. Six were located in the city 
proper, and precisely the same number in the 
sparsely settled Dorchester district, which had 
made this ample provision for itself on the eve of 

[31 ] 


The fire department not only commanded the 
pubHc confidence, but was the most popular 
branch of the city's equipment. Only twelve years 
had elapsed since the hand-tubs had been suc- 
ceeded by the steam-engines, and thousands of 
men walked the streets who had at one time or 
another borne an active part in the old-time 
establishment. The firemen's parade was always 
one of the events of the year, and the long array 
of brightly painted and highly polished engines, 
with their gleaming stacks stuffed with flowers, 
the trucks and hose-carriages draped with gor- 
geous bunting, and the trim files of red-shirted 
firemen, preceded by foremen with silver trumpets, 
were always received with boundless delight and 
enthusiasm. The different companies did not 
rely alone upon their numbers for identification, 
for every steamer, hose-carriage, and truck bore 
some distinctive name, many of them legacies 
from hand-engine times. The Boston schoolboy 
of 1872 still recalls with a flush of the old enthusi- 
asm Mazeppa 1, Eagle S, Barnicoat 4, Melville 6, 
Northern Liberty 8, Maverick 9, Warren 12, 

[ 32 ] 


Tremont 13, and many another good title famous 
in many a hard-fought contest with the flames. 

On Saturday, October 26, 1872, the rain was 
driving in sheets before a fierce autumnal gale. If 
we had looked into the fire department office in 
City Hall late on the afternoon of this stormy day, 
we should have found a group of fifteen strong 
weather-beaten men in earnest consultation. This 
was the Board of Engineers of the Boston Fire 
Department, which had been convened by Chief 
Damrell, "to decide upon a course of action in 
case of fire during the present time in which the 
horses were stricken with the distemper- that was 
so prevalent." The situation was indeed serious, 
and the inroads of the epidemic had played havoc 
with trade and with the public convenience and 
comfort. Some of the horse-railways had discon- 
tinued running, while others maintained a lame 
and infrequent service. Teaming except by oxen 
was almost at a standstill, and but for the latent 
sense of humor in the American character the 
situation would have seemed blue enough. Em- 
ployees and truckmen vied with one another in 

[ '^3 ] 


manning heavy drays by hand-power, and some 
concerns added gayety to these troubled days by 
hiring brass bands, which headed gangs of tugging 
men, playing lively marching tunes. So far as the 
fire department was concerned, the conditions af- 
forded no opportunity for the play of humor. The 
horses were nearly all down in their stalls, and the 
question was how best to insure a prompt re- 
sponse of the heavy apparatus to alarms of fire. 
It is not clear whether the hiring or impressment of 
sound horses was even considered in the meeting 
to which we refer, but the final conclusion of the 
whole matter was that all use of horses should be 
for the time suspended. It was voted that the 
strength of each company should be temporarily 
doubled by the enlistment of volunteers, and that 
drag-ropes should be furnished each engine-house 
for the purpose of drawing the apparatus by hand- 
power. But while strengthening the personnel of 
the department, the engineers voted to suspend 
the running card and to decrease the number 
of engines responding to alarms. Under the 
running card then in force, from four to six 

[ 34 ] 


steamers responded to each box in the downtown 
section, but the new assignment adopted at this 
meeting reduced the number to one. It was pro- 
vided that the hose-jumpers should alone be taken 
out on the first call, the engines to follow in case 
of a second alarm. We cannot now determine the 
motives that inspired the suspension of the running 
card, but its practical effect was to decrease the effi- 
ciency of the department by eighty per cent for the 
first five or ten minutes of every fire. To minimize 
the delay in the response of the steamers, it was 
voted to notify the police, in all cases where the 
fire was above the third story, to pull the second 
alarm, as soon as the first had ceased striking, 
without waiting for an order from an engineer. 
The meaning of this is of course clear enough : a 
fire in the lower part of a building might be con- 
trolled by hydrant streams ; above that level the 
power furnished by the engines would be a 
necessity. After voting Steamers 16 and 18 tem- 
porarily out of service, and providing for some 
minor details, the meeting adjourned. The store- 
fronts were lighted and the gas-lamps were flick- 



ering above the flooded streets when the engineers 
passed out of City Hall after completing what 
proved to be a most serious blunder, none the less 
deplorable because the work of brave and con- 
scientious men. It must be confessed that a week 
after the adoption of the new system it appeared 
to be working well enough. The fire-fiend seemed 
inclined to stay his hand, and when the city bells 
boomed out their call of danger there was a mad rush 
of sturdy citizens towards the engine-houses to man 
the ropes. The long lines of panting men with the 
hose-reels clattering at their heels were received 
with cheers, gibes, and laughter whenever they 
appeared on the crowded streets. The city was 
enlivened by the workings of the new rules, and 
many a merchant whose fortune was soon to dis- 
appear in ashes looked out with delight upon these 
vivid reminders of the good old days when he 
**ran with the machine." 

It was very evident during the first week of 
November that the epidemic had spent its force 
and that matters were rapidly mending. The 

street railways had reestablished an efficient serv- 



ice, and had eighty per cent of their animals at 
work. The streets of the wholesale district re- 
sumed their normal appearance, and truckmen 
and cabmen again began to ply their trades. But 
the fire department still ran by hand. The horses 
were adjudged unfit for their peculiarly arduous 
work, and the question of hiring was not even then 
considered. But, as we have said, the fire-fiend 
seemed inert, the weather held still and mild, and 
when the morning of November 9 broke with 
all the golden promise of a glorious Indian Sum- 
mer day, it was remarked by the firemen on duty 
in the city proper that no alarm had called them 
out for four long days and nights. The soft land 
breeze that prevailed throughout the day went 
down with the sun, and the leafless trees on the 
Common displayed their still and delicate tracery 
against a cloudless and glowing west. With the 
gathering of dusk the rising moon diffused its silvery 
light over town and bay, and, as darkness deep- 
ened, the gas-lamps began to flare in the shadowy 
streets. Silence reigned in the wholesale district, 

but Washington Street, deserted for a time, began 

[37 ] 


to fill again with the usual crowds of a Saturday 
night. The retail stores were soon thronged with 
week-end shoppers, and as the clock of the Park 
Street Church tolled forth the hour of seven, the 
malls of the Common were dotted with strollers 
tempted thither by the unseasonable mildness of 
the weather. The entrances of the theatres were 
flaming with gas-lights, and the enthusiastic van- 
guard of the evening's audiences lounged in the 
lobbies or sauntered in to their seats. At the 
Museum, the bill-boards announced that the 
tragedy of Othello would be essayed by the full 
strength of the popular company. The crowd was 
thin about the Boston Theatre, where the regular 
company was advertised to appear in Nobody's 
Daughter and Paddy Miles's Boy, but the great 
house had been filled during the afternoon to 
witness Charlotte Cushman in her soul-stirring 
impersonation of Meg Merrilies. This tragic 
queen had held the Boston stage throughout the 
week, playing in Macbeth and Henry VIII as 
well as in Guy Mannering, and this evening's 
entertainment was regarded as a tame conclusion 

[SS ] 


to a notable six-days' run. It was about the Globe, 
farther up Washington Street, that the public 
interest seemed to centre, for Mr. E. A. Sothern 
was to be the star of the evening in David Gar- 


rick, with the Boorampooter as a curtain-raiser. 

The South End cars halted here to discharge 

their heavy freights, while Mr. Hathorne's coaches 

also made their modest contributions to what was 

clearly to be a crowded house. 

[39 ] 


The corner of Washington and Winter streets 
was a busy centre, as it has been for long years 
since, and here a sudden halt was noticed in the 
movement uptown. What had served to chain the 
interest of a half-dozen listless strollers soon drew 
a hundred to the spot, where all were gazing down 
the narrow, dimly-lighted length of Summer Street, 
at the lower end of which the fitful glowing of a 
rapidly increasing cloud of smoke told of the out- 
break of fire. One by one, or in small knots, the 
beholders broke from the throng and made their 
way down by Hovey's and Trinity Church towards 
the Hartford and Erie Depot. There was no out- 
cry, or, if there was, it was lost in the rumble of 
wheels, the jangle of horse-car bells, and the usual 
sounds of a city street. The first arrivals from 
Washington Street saw at a glance that the mod- 
ern five-story granite block on the southeasterly cor- 
ner of Kingston and Summer streets was on fire. 
Great masses of yellow smoke poured from every 
crevice of the Mansard roof. The curtains were 
drawn behind the broad expanse of glass that lined 
the street-floor, while midway between sidewalk 



and eaves a brass corner sign shone faintly in the 
hght of the street-lamp below. Those who passed 
close under the threatened structure could see the 


reflection of angry flames upon the window-panes 
on the other side of Kingston Street, and then the 
attention of those who had been gazing up to the 
smoking roof was called to the ruddy glare that 

[41 ] 


was spreading through the basement. It was clear 
that the flames had secured a lodgment upon every 
floor, and that the building was on fire from cellar 
to attic. 

But some time before it had become visible in 
Washington Street, the fire had been detected by 
the dwellers in Kingston Street. In 1872, with the 
exception of a business structure at the corner of 
Summer Street and another adjoining, in process 
of erection, the whole westerly side of Kingston, 
between Summer and Bedford streets, was still 
occupied by dwellings. One or tw^o old residents 
still clung to their roof-trees, but the march of 
business was accomplishing its certain work, and 
most of these old-time homes had deteriorated into 
lodging-houses, as the first step in retreat before 
the encroachments of trade. The granite block in 
which the fire originated extended along Kingston 
Street for one hundred feet to an alley in the rear. 
Across the alley stood another five-story structure 
built of brick, which formed at that time the 
southerly outpost of Boston's wholesale district. 
Beyond, along the edge of the South Cove, lay a 

[ 42 ] 


faded reminder of what had once been a pleasant 
residential section, the old swell-front houses given 
over to lodgers and undermined in their basements 
by the shops of petty traders. 

From the windows of the Kingston Street lodg- 
ing-houses scores of eyes beheld the incipient 
stages of a catastrophe that was to become mem- 
orable in our civic annals. The fire first appeared 
shining in the basement of the granite block. It 
was decreed by fate that it should break out 
within a few feet of the pine-sheathed elevator- 
well that pierced the building for its entire height, 
from the basement floor to the great wooden 
Mansard roof. It was seemingly but a moment 
from the first appearance of the flames until a 
sudden flaring through a small window in the 
elevator-shaft proclaimed that they had begun 
their upward march. The excited men who first 
crossed Kingston Street into the alley declared 
that it was a matter of seconds rather than of 
minutes before the small windows in the elevator 
shaft were blown out at the third story and the 
glass sent rattling and clinking to the pavement 

[43 ] 


below. Then a brilliant reflection, spreading through 
the great rooms, indicated that the elevator parti- 
tions on the second and third floors were burning 
through. There was a brief hesitancy in the upward 
movement at this point, then a new rush followed, 
and those looking out from open windows in the 
Kingston Street houses could hear the fire roaring 
like a blast as it swept up the shaft to the roof. As 
floor after floor became brilliant with the threaten- 
ing light, and as the masses of smoke drifting 
lazily into the air grew lurid and became spangled 
with sparks, the good people of Kingston Street 
bethought themselves of their danger, and, while 
some prepared to pack their belongings, others 
began to concoct private measures for the pro- 
tection of their property. In the street the ques- 
tion was asked by one of another why the firemen 
did not appear. A night clerk inquired from a 
neighboring window if the alarm had been given, 
and some one shouted an affirmative response. 
Anxious queries regarding the alarm were inter- 
spersed with harsh criticism of the sluggishness of 

the fire department. No one knew the where- 

[ 44 ] 


abouts of the nearest signal-box; every one was 
content with his neighbor's assurance that the 
alarm had probably been given. Of such men was 
the gathering crowd composed, and this event 
must go down in history as one crisis in which 
Boston's citizens woefully failed her. 

It is clear that the police were not neglectful 
of their duty ; but the same fate that fixed the spot 
for the outbreak of the fire also decreed an hour 
when no policeman was near. When Officer Page, 
attracted first by the shouting of boys and then by 
the light of the fire, hurried up Lincoln Street and 
opened the alarm-box at the corner of Bedford, he 
was but a few seconds ahead of two of his col- 
leagues, who came running in from other direc- 
tions. Without waiting to locate the fire. Page 
opened the box and pulled down the slide. Acting 
under the special instructions of the Board of 
Engineers, he gave the second alarm before closing 
the box. 

In all the confused, tumultuous testimony offered 
by excited men, it is difficult to figure time as it 
elapsed in the vicinity of Kingston and Summer 



streets between seven and half-past on this fatal 
evening. Two conspicuous and widely separated 
events alone enable us to estimate the delay that 
ensued between the first discovery of the fire and 
the taking of the first step towards calling out the 
fire-extinguishing machinery of the city. 

It chanced that evening that a schooner was 
being warped through the Prison Point draw- 
bridge of the Eastern Railroad in Charlestown. 
Two police officers interested themselves in the 
affair, fearing that the 7.10 train from Boston 
might be delayed. As the bridge was closed and 
the line reopened, they found that the task had 
been well done, the depot clock reading eight 
minutes after seven. At this moment, looking 
towards Boston, they saw the glowing of the 
smoke-cloud, and remarked one to the other that 
there was a fire in the city. 

The fire-alarm operator in the dome of the 
City Hall was engrossed in his paper on this 
pleasant evening. He was called to his feet by the 
clicking of his instruments registering an alarm, 
and as he put the machinery in motion which sent 

[40 ] 


the news clanging through the fire-houses of the 
city, he Hfted his eyes and saw the hght of the 
flames. He then turned to his clock and entered 
in his register an alarm from Box 52 at 7.24 p. m. 
Astounding as is the fact, we are compelled to 
believe that the fire was visible from a point two 
miles distant a full quarter of an hour before its 
existence was made known to the fire department 
of Boston. 

Fifty-two was known among the city firemen as 
"a bad box." Not only was it located among tall 
buildings capped with wooden Mansard roofs and 
crowded with costly and inflammable stocks, but 
the water-supply in this vicinity was notoriously 
inadequate to meet conflagration conditions. The 
old six-inch pipe in Summer Street was large 
enough for hand-engine days, when this was a 
region of dwellings, many of them detached and 
standing within shady yards; but in 1872 this 
six-inch pipe had been reduced to five by rust, and 
was wholly insuflficient to feed any number of the 
powerful steam-engines with which the depart- 
ment was equipped. With a full knowledge of 



the conditions existing, the Board of Engineers 
had arranged that Box 52 should call out every 
engine in the city proper on the first alarm. This 
ensured the presence of six steamers on the fire- 
ground within ten minutes of the opening of the 
signal-box; and by running long lines of hose 
from Winthrop Square and Bedford Street, and by 
utilizing the reservoir in Church Green, it was 
planned to minimize the draft on the Summer 
Street main and develop a powerful attack upon 
every fire in its incipiency. More than once 
threatening fires had been controlled in this sec- 
tion by the prompt arrival and wise distribution of 
the apparatus. 

We have noted that the fire of November 9, 
1872, broke out under conditions that made for its 
rapid spread. There had been an incomprehens- 
ible delay in giving the alarm, and now as never 
before the city was dependent upon the prompt 
rallying of its fire department. But between the 
desired end and its accomplishment stood the 
fatal regulations of October 26. Only two en- 
gines left their quarters on the first alarm, and 

[48 ] 


Number 10 went out against orders, inspired by 
the threatening glare. Steamers 4 and 8 left their 
houses as the second alarm began to strike, but 
it took the third, which was sent out at 7.34, to 
start the rest of the downtown force. All of this 
apparatus was drawn by hand. 

Chief Engineer Damrell counted the alarm from 
his house in Temple Street, and hurried on foot over 
the hill and down Park Street, amazed at the great 
light that loomed before him, but all unconscious of 
the awful dimensions of the battle upon which he 
was entering. The third alarm was sounding as 
he gained the corner of Kingston Street, and his 
first act was to order the "general," summoning 
the entire fire-fighting force of the city from the 
Charles to Neponset River. At 7.45 the ominous 
"three twelves" began to boom forth from a 
hundred belfries. The Chief found himself, ten 
minutes after receiving the alarm, confronting a 
great structure that from sidewalk to roof had be- 
come a living furnace. Instead of the heavy force 
that under happier auspices should have been in 
position about the threatened corner, he found 

[ 49 ] 


Steamer 7 battling unaided against the rising con- 
flagration, although Number 4 was just coming 
in, drawn at a slow trot by an exhausted group of 
men and boys. Steamer 10 turned into Summer 
Street a moment later, and her line was run off" 
promptly from the corner of Arch Street. Two or 
three hose companies were also on the ground, 
but with the low water-pressure prevailing they 
were of no more value than an equal number of 
buckets. It is on record that the men of Hose- 
Company Number 8 did force their way up one 
flight into the burning building, but after playing 
a weak hydrant stream for a few minutes, the 
onrush of flames swept them down the stairs and 
into the street. Steamer 4 attempted to hold the 
hydrant at the corner of Kingston and Summer 
streets, and did so for a time despite the bombard- 
ment of exploding granite and the awful heat that 
threatened to melt the suctions. Then a huge 
block of granite came crashing to the sidewalk and 
broke their connections. As the engine was drawn 
from its dangerous position by brave men who 

took their lives in their hands, the flames burst 



forth in fury from the upper stories of the brick 
block south of the alley-way on Kingston Street, 
and the firemen working within its walls were 
withdrawn none too soon. At the same time the 
dormers of the Kingston Street dwellings began to 
burn, while smoke rose from the Mansard roofs 
on the northerly side of Summer Street, and bright 
jets of flame flickered from under their wooden 
eaves. At ten minutes of eight all the belated 
engines of the city proper had at length arrived, 
and their hose was stretched in the streets. 

When Chief Engineer Damrell beheld the 
danger that threatened on the corner of Summer 
and Otis streets, he realized the full gravity of the 
crisis. He saw in that corner the key to the situa- 
tion and that it must be held if a general confla- 
gration was to be averted. Engine 4, as we have 
seen, had been driven from its point of vantage, but 
Engine 9 reported unexpectedly in Church Green, 
having crossed the ferry from East Boston on the 
second alarm instead of waiting for the general. 
No infringement of department rules was ever 
more gratefully pardoned than this forward zeal 

[51 ] 


on the part of the East Boston company. Attempts 
were made to play upon the smouldering roofs from 
the street, but because of the fierce heat prevailing 
between the buildings, and because of the lack of 
power in the streams, these efforts were quickly 
abandoned. Lines of hose were carried up ladders 
from Otis Street and over the stairways from 
Summer Street, but the firemen gasping in the 
smoke of the upper stories found almost no pres- 
sure at their nozzles. The rusty six-inch pipe was 
unequal to the draft upon it, and when an engine 
maintaining with diflSculty a single stream was 
seized upon by a hose company for a second line, 
one fair stream was ruined and two feeble. ones 
took its place. The Chief and his assistants shut 
down engines at some points in order to get more 
power at others, but this meant that men fighting 
desperately in the heat and smoke high above the 
streets found themselves suddenly deprived of 
their only means of preservation. Appeal after 
appeal came down to the enginemen for more 
water, but the flow in the mains had almost 
stopped and the steamers fretted angrily at their 


Vol. XVL— No. 831.] 


Piitcrpd nrcordiiic to Act nf l^ni^ruab. h. itii- "^ i-a. i-.j. i.y ilnn'-r ^- HrorniT.-. .u .ht v.-Xicx- oX ilm Uhrflrian of Coiiircw, at Wnshlng 



fruitless task. None but those engaged in that 
fierce half-hour's struggle at the corner of Otis 
and Summer streets can ever know what a brave, 
hopeless, and heart-breaking stand it was. The 
city clocks struck eight. The scene at the Kingston 
Street corner had become awful beyond descrip- 
tion ; and as the jagged walls came thundering 
down in utter ruin, great billows of flame surged 
into the air and fairly lapped the granite fronts 
across the way. The building on the westerly 
corner of Kingston Street began to burn, while the 
fire, working around from the structure in which 
it originated, had ignited the block adjoining 
on the east. Worse than all, the firemen on Otis 
Street were losing ground, and the flames could 
be seen rippling in lurid waves along the ceilings 
of the upper stories. As floor after floor lighted up 
with the glare of the descending fire, dull explosions 
blew out the glass from superheated rooms. The 
Chief, having ordered a repetition of the general 
alarm and summoned the spare engines of the 
department to be brought to the scene, then 
despatched a messenger to the Western Union 

[ 54 ] 


Office in State Street to telegraph for aid to every 
city and town within a radius of fifty miles. And 
now the engines began to come thick and fast in 
response to the repeated alarms, forcing their 
way with clanging gongs through the excited 
crowds. But the last opportunity of the firemen 
had passed, a conflagration was under way, and 
could the entire fire department have then been 
massed in Summer Street by the wave of a magi- 
cian's wand, it would have been of no avail. 





Union Club 

Boston, November 10, 1872. 

Dear Harry, — 

When I wrote you last week describing 
the torchlight procession of October 30th, and not- 
ing the satisfaction we all felt over the result of 
the election, I had no idea that the subject matter 
of my next would be of such a distressing charac- 
ter. I suppose that you are still in France and 
you will of course soon see in the Paris papers 
some account of the great calamity that has come 
to us here. As I sit writing in the Club, everything 
is in a turmoil, we are practically under martial 
law, while a small army of firemen from all over 
New England is still engaged in fighting fire among 
the smouldering ruins which cover some sixty or 
seventy acres of what was Boston's wholesale dis- 



trict. Somewhere from 75 to 100 millions have 
disappeared in the conflagration, and God only 
knows how general business, bad enough at best, 
is to be influenced by this awful wiping-out of 
values. The fire broke out at half-past seven last 
evening, in a tall building at the corner of Summer 
and Kingston streets, which was used largely as a 
hoop-skirt manufactory. There appears to have 
been great delay in giving the alarm, the engines 
were delayed by lack of horses, and although no 
wind was stirring, the fire spread rapidly, crossed 
Summer Street, and entered both Devonshire and 
Otis streets. It also burned eastward down Sum- 
mer street to Church Green, and from there swept 
down to Broad Street and along High and Pur- 
chase streets towards Fort Hill. In a word, it 
has taken pretty much everything within the ter- 
ritory bounded by Washington Street on the west, 
Summer Street on the south, the water, Oliver 
Street, and Liberty Square on the east, and State 
Street on the north. The Old South was saved, 
and the fire was held at Milk Street on the line 
between Devonshire and Washington. It was fin- 

[ 60 ] 


ally brought under control in Congress and Kilby 
streets this afternoon, after burning through the 
post office, in the Merchants' Exchange building. 
I was up all last night, and but for the fact that 
I know how anxious you will be to have details of 



the matter at the earliest possible moment, I should 
be now in my bed. I am going to throw off this 
scrawl in the hope that I may catch the mail which 
goes out by the Malta Tuesday, although be- 

[61 ] 


cause of the burning of the post oflBce I don't 
know just what will happen to our mails for the 
next day or two. 

You must know, then, that I was booked to go 
last evening (Saturday) to the Globe, with your 
Cambridge cousin and some others from that 
town, to see Sothern. I had Dundreary in mind, 
a very amusing piece as you know, and I only 
learned in the morning that David Garrick was 
the bill. As I have seen rather too much of that 
silly play, and as I could n't imagine Sothern as 
adapted to the part, I gave up my ticket and con- 
cluded to take tea with Freddie and Maria at the 
South End and go out to Roxbury early in the 
evening. We had hardly risen from the table be- 
fore some young people dropped in on my nephews 
and nieces, and the piano was soon going and they 
were singing college songs and "Champagne 
Charley," "Up in a Balloon, Boys," and all that 
sort of thing. You know my habit of counting the 
fire-alarm, and several times I thought I heard 
the bell on the Methodist Church on Tremont 
Street. However, I could n't be sure, and I let 



things go until there was a break in the uproar and 
I heard the bell again. I looked at the clock and 
saw that it was eight o'clock, and stepped to the 
door to look out. The sky was cloudless, the moon 
bright, but the loom of a big fire was unmistak- 
able above the houses on the other side of the street. 
I thought it could n't be farther away than Dover 
Street, and so endeavored to arouse Freddie's 
enthusiasm for a run down Shawmut Avenue. 
But he had one of his confounded throats, was as 
blue as a whetstone, and could n't be budged. So 
I said good-night and started out alone. I met a 
policeman before reaching the corner, who in- 
formed me that the fire was at the corner of Bedford 
and Lincoln, that the *' general" had been given 
and once repeated, and pointing to the sky with 
his cane ventured the statement that '' they had 
got a good one this time." I then decided to take 
a car, but as there was nothing in sight on the 
avenue, I went through to Washington Street. 
The Metropolitan was running, of course, on 
**epizootic" time, and I don't know how long I 

waited, but others were waiting too. I let two cars 

[63 ] 


go by on which there was n't an inch of room, and 
when I finally squeezed on to a crowded platform I 
heard the bells striking again. There was a steamer 
right behind us, but, although we made wretchedly 
slow time, we gained on her, and at Dover Street 
she was not in sight. I thought that if the fire 
department was n't travelling any faster than that, 
there was a big chance for trouble before morning. 
I jumped off at Essex Street, made my way into 
Bedford and found it crowded and roped off just 
below Chauncey. I met the secretary of one of the 
insurance companies, I can't think of his name, 
and he told me of the outbreak of the fire, that it 
had crossed Summer and was going down both 
sides of the street into Church Green, and that it 
looked like a bad night for his business. There was 
an engine from Dorchester just taking position in 
Chauncey Street at this time, and there was a lad- 
der thrown against a block on the easterly side, 
from which I inferred that they were afraid of 
the fire coming through there. I managed to get 
through Chauncey into Summer, and then I could 
see the whole thing, both sides of Summer a roar- 

[ 64 ] 


ing furnace, the flames rolling out and seeming to 
meet in the middle of the street. I could n't see 
that the firemen were doing anything in the world, 
but a man who had been there from the start said 
that the fire was going fast into Winthrop Square 
and that the engines were fighting it on that side. 
There was a steamer at the corner of Arch Street, 
but her machinery was turning over very slowly 
and her hose was not filled. I asked the engineman 
what the trouble was, and he said the steamers were 
all '' running away from their water " and that he 
was shut down by orders to lessen the draft upon 
the main. The only comfort I gained from him 
was that there was more water elsewhere, the sup- 
ply in Summer Street being particularly bad. I 
went through Hawley and Franklin streets into 
Winthrop Square. I had no idea how bad things 
were until I arrived there. and saw Beebe's block 
on fire from top to bottom. You remember what 
a splendid building that was, altogether the noblest 
mercantile block in Boston, and yet it burned as 
though built of slabs or shingles. It went up like 
tinder, although the fire departments of Cam- 

[65 ] 


bridge, Charlestown, and Somerville aided the city 
firemen in their desperate efforts to save it. Do 
you know that as I stood here I became con- 
scious that a gale was blowing? At the South 
End there was hardly a breath of air, but now 
the fierce gusts, caused, I suppose, by the rising 
heat, howled and whistled around the corners 
and whirled the tops of the strongest streams of 
water into useless spray. The picture of that flam- 
ing palace and the red light of its destruction re- 
flected upon the sea of upturned faces was a sight 
I shall never forget. I saw President Eliot of Har- 
vard standing in the square, and it occurred to 
me that with Harvard's interest in city real estate 
he could not be in a happy frame of mind. He was 
with Mr. Brooks, the Rector of Trinity, and some 
other gentlemen whom I did n't recognize. Mr. 
Damrell, in his white hat, came fighting his way 
through the crowd, and I saw Mr. Eliot exchange 
a few words with him in passing, but don't know 
what comfort he got. I believed even then that 
the firemen fighting in the big open square would 
manage to keep the fire out of Franklin Street, 


















I— I 






and with this idea in mind I worked my way 
through the crowd into Federal Street and so 
around into Church Green. Here matters were 
in as bad a shape as in Winthrop Square; the 


building where the old church stood was all alight, 
and it looked to me as though the fire was already 
in Milton Place. The wind was very high here, 
seeming to suck in through the narrow streets 

[68 ] 


towards the fire, while the upper currents were 
from the west. The brands were driving about in 
every direction, huge blazing fragments, falling 
all over the streets and on the tops of the build- 
ings. I stayed here until the walls of the Free- 
man's Bank building fell down and it became 
necessary to withdraw all the engines that had been 
drafting from the reservoir in front. For a few 
minutes there was n't a sign of a stream in any di- 
rection, and then some one said that the Hartford 
and Erie depot had caught from the sparks. I left 
things here in as desperate shape as they could 
well be, and went across into South Street and 
managed to push my way into Essex Street. Here 
the engines were in strong force, and although the 
brands and cinders were a serious menace to all 
the shingled shanties of the South Cove, it looked 
to me as though the fire would be stopped in this 
direction. The brick dwelling-houses in Bedford 
and Columbia streets were burning, but on the 
whole there seemed to be as much water as fire, 
and among the low buildings the streams hit the 
flames with telling effect. I was addressed very 

[69 ] 


politely by one of the firemen here, and found that 
he was our worthy painter from Roxbury, the 
same with whom you had that controversy about 
your bill last year. He runs with Warren 12, the 
successor of our old love, and was engaged with 
the rest of his company in getting a line of hose 
up on to a low shed in the rear of Bedford Street. 
I gave them a lift, and our friend was much sur- 
prised to hear that the fire had gone into Winthrop 
Square. He thought they had it all on this side 
and were '* killing" it, as he said. 

It occurred to me at this time that Ned and his 
party should know of what was going on, and I 
determined to go up to the theatre and see if I 
could get word in to them. I went up Beach Street 
to Washington, but found myself too late, as the 
crowd was pouring out of the theatre just as I got 
there. You should have seen the bewilderment on 
tlieir faces as the hand-engine from Brookline vil- 
lage came clanking and jangling across Washing- 
ton Street with crowded ropes. It was useless to 
try to find Ned in such a mob, so I made my 
way back through Beach Street and found the fire 



pretty well beaten down all along the line from 
Kingston to South Street. Just here who should 
I stumble on but Freddie, bundled up like an 
Esquimau, although the evening was warm and 
I was hot from walking and elbowing through 
crowds. He said his bookkeeper had sent him 
a note by one of the Soldier's Messenger Corps 
stating that the whole business district was afire, 
and he was in a terrible state of the dumps. He 
said the night air would play the deuce with his 
throat, and was sure that his store was already 
fjone. I told him that the fire was a aood half 
mile from India Street, and at any rate he was in- 
sured. He did n't seem to think half a mile was 
much, and said he would n't give a d — n for the 
value of any insurance policy when this fire had 
burned itself out. We went down into Federal 
Street, where the Hartford and Erie property was 
making a great blaze without a drop of water 
being thrown upon it. There were two steamers 
in Federal Street, and it seemed to me that the 
firemen showed good judgment in playing upon 

the low buildings on the westerly side of the way. 

[71 ] 


We were here, I suppose, for an hour, until it be- 
came clear that the fire was not going much farther 
in this direction. Freddie kept worrying about his 
throat and his store, and finally I suggested that 


we go along Broad Street to India and have a look 
at his property. Then we found that we could n't 
get through, that the fire had come down to Broad 
from Church Green, and that Tileston's Wharf 



was all afire. So back we went through Beach into 
Washington Street and down as far as Cunning- 
ham's furniture store, where we were blocked by 
the crowds. Freddie was for going into Brown's 
apothecary store on the corner of Bedford Street, 
to stock up on Bronchial Troches, I suppose, but 
the place was full and I finally got him headed 
up West Street towards the Common. It was a 
wonderful sight from Tremont Street to see the 
light of the fire reflected on the tree-tops, on the 
Park Street spire, and State House dome, and 
on the window-fronts of Beacon and Arlington 
streets. It looked at times as though both of 
these streets were all in flames. There were en- 
gines in Winter and Bromfield streets, and one 
from North Cambridge stood in front of the Park 
Street Church. She was whistling for coal, and 
the fireman was breaking up boxes with a hatchet 
for fuel. There was a great whistling going on in 
all directions, and you can imagine that it was no 
joke to get around the w^ide circle we were making 
with the coal-wagons. I suppose, too, that the 
horses were in poor condition. 

[ 7'^ ] ' 


The City Hall was all dark as we passed, and I 
finally got Freddie down through Water Street 
and Liberty Square into India Street, and showed 
him his store safe and sound. I told him he was 
an ass and that there was trouble enough around 
without his imaginary ones. Then he damned his 
bookkeeper for getting him out on a fool's errand 
and said this expedition might cost him his life, 
that it did n't make any difference if the store did 
go, there had n't been any money made there for 
years, etc., etc. I was pretty mad by this time, and 
headed him for Tremont Street, to load him on a 
car and send him home to his wife who loves him. 
Did you know he voted for Greeley ? He says he 
did, and I dare say he tells the truth. We got into 
Broad Street and thence through Sturgis and 
Perkins streets into Congress, where we found 
the fire coming through from Federal Street and 
down from High. In some respects this was the 
most remarkable sight of the evening, and we 
stood watching the flames, without an engine or 
a fireman in sight. In Winthrop Square and 
Summer Street the buildings all caught on their 



roofs, above the reach of the water, and burned 
down, but here every floor flashed up simulta- 
neously and the flames shot out as though by 
explosive force. A building all dark w^ould be a 
living furnace in five minutes. It was the effect, I 
suppose, of the tremendous heat making its way 
through the walls, but I never should have be- 
lieved such a thing possible if I had n't seen it. 
It was fearful to have this sort of thing going on 
without a hand being raised to stop it. There were 
a lot of people about, but the street was not 
crowded. Lights were burning in many of the 
stores, and wagons with and w^ithout horses were 
backed up to the walks, and being hurriedly 
loaded with the most portable merchandise. I 
saw a crowed of men dragging a small safe down 
the street by a rope. I don't know where they got 
it, and they certainly did n't know w^here to go with 
it. We stayed here until the flames burst out of 
Spooner's big building, and as we turned to leave, 
an engine, from Salem I think, w^as just coming 
in. They did n't know^ much about the geography 

of Boston, and hesitated as to what they should do. 



A man came running up in a terrible state of ex- 
citement, and begged them to put a stream upon 
his store. It was already afire, but he insisted that 
they could save it if they would, and promised 
them all the good things in this world and the 
next if they would only get to work. But the fore- 
man, a picturesque old fellow in a long army over- 
coat, said he could n't do anything there with a 
single stream and did n't propose to lose his en- 
gine at that early stage of the game. So, in spite of 
bribes and threats, the machine rumbled off down 
the street, and a few minutes later I saw it stand- 
ing in Bath Street while the men ran back up Con- 
gress unreeling the hose from their "jumper." 

Just here a fellow came along who lives over 
Norfolk House way and who was in the Roxbury 
Council with us. You know how bad a memory 
I have for names, but I shall think of his before 
I close this letter. He had seen the episode I have 
just described, and while he agreed with me that 
the foreman did the right thing, he also thought 
that no kind of system was being followed in 

fighting the fire, that some one should be about 

[76 ] 


to tell these countrymen where to go and what to 
do, and not leave them to fly at things haphazard 
on the simple Irish plan of hitting a head when 
they saw it. He then suggested that we go up to 
City Hall and see what they were doing there. 
Freddie could n't be persuaded, so we left him 
in School Street bound for his car. Our old col- 
league informed me that the Chief Engineer had 
telegraphed all over the country for help, and that 
both sides of Franklin and both sides of Devon- 
shire were now burning, and that the fire was 
half-way to Washington on one street and half- 
way to Milk on the other. The Hall was bril- 
liantly lighted when we got there. There were 
a few people in the lobby, but we went up to the 
Mayor's office, where there were twenty or thirty 
prominent men, besides Chief Damrell and Mr. 
Gaston and his secretary. Every one was terribly 
excited, and you never heard anything like the 
crazy suggestions that were made by some of these 
people. As we came in, Mr. Burt, the postmaster, 
was telling the Mayor that if he did n't assert his 
authority and order the destruction of buildings 

[ 77 ] 


by powder, in the morning he would see the har- 
bor from the windows of City Hall. The Mayor 
replied that he did not propose to have any con- 
flict of authority, that the law placed the responsi- 
bility upon the shoulders of the Chief Engineer 
and his assistants, and that was the safest place to 
leave it. Then they all besieged Mr. Damrell, 
calling for powder. It was evident that the Chief 
was very nervous. He had no confidence in ex- 
plosives, and he finally yielded, it seemed to me, 
entirely against his judgment. He sat down at the 
Mayor's desk and wrote out some orders author- 
izing the holder to blow up buildings, and then 
called for volunteers. Alderman Woolley spoke 
his mind and refused to have anything to do with 
the matter; but some dozen men came forward, 
and, after a hurried jabber as to where they should 
go and as to what they should do, they all went 
out like a regular mob. I made up my mind that 
if those fellows succeeded in putting their hands 
upon any powder the only safe place in the city 
for the average man would be in the centre of the 

Common. Is n't there something in Shakespeare 

[78 ] 


or the Bible about some chaps who "labored not 
wisely but too w^ell" ? It was some of that sort 
that went jumping down the stairs after General 
Burt. There was a lot of grumbling about the 
Mayor's lack of energy, but God knows there was 
energy enough in that room without any surplus 
in him. He kept his wits, and that cannot be said 
of all the good men I met last night. 

I heard the Mayor give instructions for calling 
out the militia and for sending to the Navy Yard 
for the marines ; then the Chief said he was going 
up to the dome of the Hall, and two or three of 
us went with him. It was a great sight from there, 
a perfect mountain of smoke and flame, with the 
top of the Transcript building and the high blocks 
adjoining drawn sharp and black against it, while 
the Old South steeple and all the high spires and 
roofs behind us stood out wonderfully in the glare. 
The Chief said that the fire would not cross Wash- 
ington Street, but that was all the encouragement 
he had to give us. Alderman Woolley asked me to 
go out with him, and we went downstairs together. 
An engine from Providence w as just getting to work 



in front of City Hall, and she was sending out the 
most ear-splitting shrieks for coal. The streets 
were filling with drays, wagons, and teams of all 
sorts. The business men were gathering fast, and 
even in School Street lights were burning in the 
offices and stores while swarms of people with 
books in their arms or loaded on barrows and hand 
carts were passing up the hill. I saw one fine old 
chap carrying what I suppose was his office cat. 
Tabby *was snarling and clawing, and I could n't 
tell whether the hair that flew was from the 
beast's back or from the old gentleman's beard. 
What a stupid brute a cat is ! Our old black 
Mephistopheles was the only sensible feline I ever 
knew, and it is a pity he could n't have lived for- 
ever as an example to his kind. Passing up Tre- 
mont Street, we now found three steamers at the 
Park Street reservoir. The two new comers were 
from Worcester, and the enginemen told us that 
their suctions would n't connect with the city 
hydrants, that they had been chasing about for a 
reservoir and this was the best that they could do. 
A fire-department wagon was standing by, dump- 

[ «0 ] 


ing out coal, and Woolley took occasion to notify the 
driver of the needs of the Providence engine we had 
left in School Street. The Common gates were open 
and teams were already driving in, heavily loaded 
with all sorts of stuff. Woolley said that on Wash- 
ington Street business men had invited the crowd 
in to help themselves to anything they wanted, 
and this gave roughs an excuse for helping them- 
selves at other points without permission. As the 
police arrested every one found with goods in their 
hands, the innocent and the guilty were suffering 
alike. We went down Winter Street, managed to 
force our way up to the ropes, and the police let us 
through. The long, low building of the Mercan- 
tile Library was burning sullenly on one side of 
Summer Street, while on the other the old post 
office at the corner of Chauncey was almost con- 
sumed, and the fire had reached one or two doors 
farther up towards Washington Street. I don't 
know what time it was, but I suppose it must have 
been two or three o'clock, so you can see what slow 
progress the fire had been making on Summer 
Street. It had been at least six or seven hours in 

[ 81 ] 


covering the block between Kingston and Chaun- 
cey. It seems that the Mercantile Library building 
caught in the rear from the burning blocks in 
Franklin Street, and the fire from this ignited the 
stores on the southerly side of Summer Street. 



There was a good force of steamers working about 
here, but the buildings all took fire in their cor- 
nices or roofs, and the streams would n't reach 
the threatened points, while the w^asted water 
rushed a foot deep along the gutters. 

I stood against the fence in front of Trinity 
Church, and it seemed to me that the fire would be 



held in the Mercantile Library building. You re- 
member how low it was and that the roof was flat. 
It did throw^ out an awful heat, though, and played 
the mischief with the buildings across the way. 
The water poured upon it didn't seem to be able 
to cool it down in the least. The eaves and 
dormers of Hovey's building were draped with 
blankets, which men from inside kept wetting, and 
that struck me as one of the brainiest thine^s I had 
seen. I don't know how long I had been standing 
here, when the front doors of Trinity opened and 
I saw a man fastening them back. Then Mr. 
Brooks, unmistakable from his tall figure, passed 
out and moved off into the crowd. In a moment I 
noticed the red glow of fire through one of the front 
windows and concluded that the church had caught 
in the rear and the door had been opened to admit 
the firemen. But no one paid any attention to it, 
and in a few moments it was all of an angry glow- 
inside and the smoke poured in clouds from the 
roof. I stepped across the street and found sev- 
eral of Hovey's people, some of whom I knew, 

standing in their doorway. I asked if I could be of 

[83 ] 


any assistance and they told me to step inside, said 
they were having a close rub of it, and did n't 
know how they would come out, now Trinity had 
caught. The employes I found there had been at 
work since midnight under the direction of mem- 
bers of the firm, and the newspapers cite what 
was done here as an example of what might have 
been accomplished had other merchants been as 
energetic and far-seeing. The whole theory of the 
defence here was to keep every vulnerable part of 
the building damp, — not wet but damp, — and 
you would be amazed to know what was accom- 
plished by the use of buckets and even tin cups. 
The fellows out on the roof were real heroes, and 
they got an awful roasting up on that dizzy height. 
I am no topmast man, but I worked like a day- 
laborer in the basement, if I do say it. My job was 
to help load the buckets and ash-cans full of water 
on the elevator, which had just begun to run when 
I got there. Before that, the poor devils had been 
tugging all that water up five flights by hand. It 
was a maddening thing to try and fill the cans, be- 
cause the water only trickled at the faucets, while 

[84 ] 


above the basement they could n't draw any water 
at all. I don't know how long I worked at this, 
but I believe I lived hours with every minute. At 
last, finding enough help at hand, I went up to 
the street floor just as the wall of the building next 
door came crashing down, broke our skylight to 
atoms, and let through a lot of flaming cinders right 
into the room. But they were ready for this, too, 
and with pails and cups they put out every fire as 
quick as it flamed up. Just at this minute a crowd 
of firemen came across the floor from Avon Street 
with a hose, and I took hold and gave them a lift 
up the stairs. Up we went the whole four flights, 
and when the men in the attic saw the hose, they 
fairly yelled with delight. The great danger now 
was from the windows that looked out into the 
well, they being separated by only six or seven feet 
from the building which was blazing next door. 
The firemen went straight to the window, then I 
heard the word "Play away, 2," passed down the 
stairs. The suspense was awful while we waited; 
it seemed as though the water was never coming ; 
but when at last I felt the hose swell under my foot, 



the firemen tore away the wet blankets at the 
window and pushed out the nozzle. Then we 
heard the stream tearing away the broken masonry 
across the well, a burst of steam blew back into the 
room, and we all knew that the fight was won. It 
was the most desperately exciting thing that I ever 
figured in, and the thought even occurred to me 
that perhaps I was a hero. At all events I had 
been working in the same building with some 
who deserved the title. I stepped out on the roof 
a minute and looked down into Summer Street, 
a veritable inferno, with old Trinity flaming like a 
torch just across the way. Going downstairs, I 
met one of our Roxbury engineers, and he said the 
store was safe. 

I ran across Alderman Woolley right off in 
Washington Street, and he was arguing in a crowd 
of citizens and firemen, some of whom were cursing 
like demons. It seems the powder-blowers from 
City Hall had arrived, and they insisted upon de- 
molishing the stone building on the corner of Sum- 
mer Street where the Waltham Watch people are. 
Woolley maintained that it was a strong building, 



and would prove a buffer to the fire raging in 
Love joy's store. The crowd was shouting to blow 
it up, and the powder men were evidently the sort 
who believe in heeding the voice of the people. 
At all events blow they would, the streams play- 
ing about there were all withdrawn, and every one 
ran for safety. I took position opposite Jordan and 
Marsh's building, and soon the explosion came, 
merely shattering the windows and filling the street 
with nasty smoke. Then there was another wrangle, 
followed by re-mining the building, and some one 
lighted the fuse. We took to our heels again and 
waited, but no explosion came and I suppose the 
fuse went out. An old fireman standing near me 
remarked that if this sort of thing was going to 
be allowed the fire would be in the North End by 
sunrise, and intimated that it was getting about 
time to hang somebody. Then I saw Woolley 
trying to get the firemen back to work. The build- 
ings on the westerly side of Washington Street 
were getting very hot, and some of the roofs were 
smoking. Then a group of hosemen made a rush 
and put a stream up on to the Winter Street cor- 



ner; others followed, and soon there was a 
powerful battery of streams at work again. The 
blowers went off, followed by all sorts of lurid 
imprecations from the firemen. The figuring of 
time for last night is out of the question, but I 
believe a good half-hour was lost by this well-nigh 
criminal foolishness. I said to Woolley then, that 
as between water, and powder as it was being 
used by our zealous citizens, the former was our 
best reliance. And now, old man, I have written 
my hand into a paralysis. It is striking ten and 
I must stop. I will mail this in two envelopes and 
only hope that you will receive them together, or 
at all events that the last half won't reach you first. 
I will finish up my story as soon as I can, perhaps 
to-morrow. Your brother Frank looked in here 
a minute ago in full regimentals, being on duty 
with the Cadets. I told him I was writing you, and 
he said to tell you that he was very well and busy. 
I hear taps on the Common, and so good-night. 

Always yours. 


Mt. Vernon Street^ November 11, 1872. 

Dear Harry, — 

General Burt has done wonders with the Post 
Office, which is now in Faneuil Hall, and we had 
our regular delivery this morning. I have yours 
dated Rouen, and gave your message to Kidder, 
Peabody and Co. this afternoon. There is nothing 
to be done on the Hartford and Erie's at present. 
Yes, work has been started on your house, I saw 
them driving the piles last week. A charming 
location you have, and your children's children 
(if the race survives the wind and dust) may find 
amusement in watching the city grow out to where 
they live. To think of your abandoning your 
green acres and your great trees for this ! But you 
are married, and vanity and love of fashion were' 
ever the curse of womankind. 

We have had another night of fire and 
added another million or more to our losses. A 
gas explosion at midnight wrecked Shreve, Crump 
and Low's building on the corner of Summer and 

[ 89 ] 


Washington Streets, and the shell burst into 
flames. Hovey's was saved again, and their build- 
ing, with the store of R. H. Stearns and Co. ad- 
joining, is all that now remains intact on the 
southerly side of Summer Street. It was fortunate 
that we had so many out-of-town fire companies 
here, for the city firemen were beaten out to a point 
of absolute exhaustion. All of these people ar- 
rived Sunday, some of them not till late, so they 
were in reasonably good condition to meet this 
last ordeal. I went to bed last night about four 
o'clock, for the second time, and was up at half- 
past seven this morning, breakfasted at the Club, 
and then went down into the burned district to see 
what small part I could play in bringing order 
out of chaos. But before saying more about last 
night's fire, or about this strange and confused 
day, I am going to complete my narrative of 
nocturnal wanderings during the raging of the 

When I left Alderman Woolley on Sunday morn- 
ing, I passed along Washington Street and saw the 

really good and successful fight that was made 

[00 ] 




there to protect the buildings on the westerly side. 
I don't know whether it was because Hovey's ex- 
ample was contagious, but wet blankets were much 
in evidence on the roofs all along between Milk 
and Winter streets. The water-supply seemed 
good, and the streams not only washed the roofs 
on the westerly side, but they played into the 
burning buildings opposite with enough effect to 
take some of the wickedness out of the fire. It was 
a long, hard fight for the Marlboro' Hotel, and 
the big marble building of Macullar, Williams 
and Parker threw out a heat that made the contest 
doubtful for hours. As I walked down Washing- 
ton Street, I came upon the marines from the Navy 
Yard marching silently, their gun-barrels flashing 
red as they came into the light of the fire at the 
head of Milk Street. Looking down Milk, I saw 
that the flames had control on the Devonshire 
Street corner, and it looked too as though the fire 
had got into Morton Place in the rear of the Tran- 
script building and the high blocks adjoining. I 
heard the Old South clock strike, I don't know 
what hour, and I know the thought came to my 

[91 ] 


mind that perhaps it would never strike again. 
There was great confusion about the church, and 
one of the out-of-town engineers told me that they 
were mining that little building of Currier and 


Trott that is wedged in between the Transcript 
and the Milk Street corner. What possible good 
could come from that was not clear to me nor to 
the engineer, but they were getting the hose away 

[92 ] 


and preparing for a smash. Wagons were backed 
up to the Transcript, for removing stock, I sup- 
pose, but the drivers whipped up and got out of 
the way, too. I went down through Spring Lane 
into Devonshire Street, and was not there long 
before I made up my mind that the granite walls 
of the unfinished post office building were worth 
a dozen steamers. Devonshire Street beyond Milk 
was all ablaze (I understand they blew it all to 
bits before the fire came in), and the short block 
on Milk between Devonshire Street and Congress 
was also afire. But the conflagration was turned 
by the post office building, and being held on the 
northwesterly corner of Devonshire, it went down 
through Congress toward State Street on a narrow 
front: You will readily see from your familiarity 
with the locality how this was and how great the 
advantage gained. The staging around the post 
office took fire again and again, but through it all 
there were crowds of spectators inside the stone 
shell of the building who were not worrying a bit 
about their safety. So much for a really fire-proof 



But with all the advantage achieved by this 
structure, when I stood at the corner of Water and 
Congress, things did not look well, first, because 
there were too few engines in the vicinity, and sec- 
ond, because there were too many of the powder- 
blowing brigade in evidence. When I saw the 


sailors from the Navy Yard desert their steamer 
and run away at the report that the fuse was 
lighted in a building a few doors from where they 
stood, I made up my mind that matters were 
getting serious. I stumbled on one of the Boston 
engineers, and asked if he did n't realize that all 

that sort of thing was simply paving a way for 

[94 ] 


the fire into State Street. He remarked that if he 
had his way all those helpful citizens with their 
d — d bags and kegs would find themselves in a 
hotter place than any he had seen that night. I 
think that this suggestion was my sole contribu- 
tion to the fire-fighting generalship, and beyond 
drawing out the honest sentiment of an over- 
worked man I don't believe it had any effect. From 
here I wandered by Broad Street into open land 
about Fort Hill; and though the fire had not 
reached there, it was coming down without oppo- 
sition to where it would have to stop for lack of 
fuel. Furniture and household goods were tumbled 
around in the open area, but there were compara- 
tively few people here, and they sauntered about 
in little groups, seemingly as calm as though they 
had walked out to witness a display of the North- 
ern Lights. I sat down in somebody's rocking- 
chair and gained a most comprehensive idea of the 
extent of the calamity, on the south and west there 
being an unbroken bow of flame and glowing 
smoke. I came up through State Street, and 
people were getting anxious there. Wagons were 



carting away the mail and valuables from the 
post office and treasury in the Merchants' Ex- 
change. Two or three engines were at work in 
the side streets, and from the corner of Kilby I 
could see the sparks from the fire in Milk Street 
falling like rain in Liberty Square. There was 


quite a crowd about the Union Safe Deposit 
Vaults, — people who wanted to get their valu- 
ables out, I suppose, — but all admission was 
denied. The gas was going in the office of Lee, 
Higginsonand Company and in some of the banks, 
and it was a good, stiff question to decide whether 



it was safer to leave securities in safes or vaults, or 
to cart theni around through crowded, disordered 
streets and tuck them away in cellars and between 
mattresses on Beacon Hill. I never appreciated 
before the real blessings of poverty. I decided for 
myself and for those I was interested in, that it 
was best to trust the firemen and the vaults of the 
Union Safe Deposit. What they could n't do I 
was pretty sure I could n't. 

It was not until I passed up by School Street on 
Washington that I realized daylight had come. 
The Transcript building was all burned out, but 
the walls were standing and the flames still flick- 
ered in the windows. Where I had left the pow- 
der-blowers, a single steamer was sending up a 
black smoke column that was silhouetted against 
the glow beyond. They were driving her hard, 
and as she quivered and roared she seemed pit- 
ted alone against a world aflame. The Old South 
had evidently been through a drenching, and as I 
stepped across to ask the engineman where he 
hailed from, I read, ''Kearsarge, Portsmouth, 
N. H.," on the boiler-plate. Do you know it gave 



me the sort of a thrill that I have n't felt since the 
first year of the war. At that minute Portsmouth 
seemed more remote to me than Timbuctoo, and 
if the engine had come from the moon it would 
hardly have produced a stronger impression. A 
tall fellow standing near me, who claimed to have 
been " raised down Portsmouth way," said that 
the steamer had come from New Hampshire an 
hour before in the very nick of time. Two or three 
streams were playing from the street, when a brand 
from the Transcript building blew across and 
lodged in the belfry. The slats were soon smoking, 
the streams fell short, and there were no ladders 
at hand. As the Kearsarge came up Washington 
Street her fires were lit, steam was up, and the men 
reeled off their hose with a will. There was great 
excitement in the crowd when the first water came 
at the nozzle, and as the stream soared higher and 
higher men fairly stood on tiptoe. Then the water 
broke in through the slats and out went the fire. 
I wish I had seen it. 

You can imagine that by this time I was dead 
tired. My eyes smarted, my face burned, and I 


Frank Leslie's Conception of the Saving of the Church 


,R 11. 1872. 


f ruins. Where, 
txi area full of no- 

rowded business 
led and tottering <, 
Idering flames — a 
ess. The scene is 
m almost unprec- 
oarely escaped a 
■ut the city, thank 
with the terrible 
jnificence and mil- 
Ik of the causes of 
C to quickly learn 

it has to teach for 
ind only seasona- 
he responsibilities 
ce; calmly, reso- 
ld persistent en- 
despondent repin- 
dness, or the in- 

selfishness. As a 
red, and as a cora- 
ly and fraternally 
of reconstruction, 
auperabound. Let 
iendship in trade," 

and labor go hand 
waste places and 
mded agencies of 
irit be no drones 
ersifiod industries. 
We have still a 
arge resources; the 

our feet again and 
r as ever. Already 
I, and the people 
3t the emergency, 
jarty common con- 
co-operation to so- 
if the interrupted 

orrow for individ- 
community as a 
y, brave, vigilant 
earnest to make 
few months alive 
ast opulence, solid- 

tho postmaster of 

» and energetic in 

the Government 

charge. \ It was, 

leasures in a groat 

at his suggestion 

>st Office and Sub- 

.ved with so little 

*rt of the present 

the last mentioned 

;onsumed, and the 

«'y into State street, 

would have ended 


one of tlie most northerly structures de- 
stroyed by the great conflagration, took fire 
in the i*ar part of the upper story at about 
six o'clock on Sunday morning. At eleven 
o'clock on Saturday night it was deemed pru- 
dent to remove the books and papers from the 
counting room to a place of safety. By the 
kindness of J. E. Mayuard & Co. of the 
Kevere Stables they were taken in car- 
riages to the residence of 'Mr. Button, the 
senior proprietor. No. GG6 Washington street. 
The complete files since 1830 were thus saved. 

The standing matter in the composing room 
was put into the turtles and lowered into the 
basement. ;The cases of type were disposed of 
in a similar manner. The men connected with 
the establishment worked with rare energy 
and devotion. The most valuable portion of 
the editorial library was saved. 

From midnight until dawn those connected 
with the different departments of the paper, 
watched the approach of the flames with in- 
tense flolicitude. At times during the anxious 
hours it was hoped the building might escape. 

At five o'clock in the morning all hope dis- 
appeared, as the buildings in immediate prox- 
imity on the south and east sides were envel- 
oped in fire. The flames made rapid head- 
way when they began and in three hours this 
elegant and costly structure was destroyed 
all but its exterior walls. 

Investigation this morning shows that the 
printing machinery is damaged fully fifty per 
cent. The heavy timbers from the upper 
story fell through the brick and iron arches 
over the presses, and the large safe in the 
counting room fell upon the Hoe four-cylinder 
press. The double six cylinder is injured to 
the extent of $15,000 to .1^18,000. The steam 
engine is nearly ruined, the woodwork upon 
and near it being destroyed. Experts esti- 
mate that perhaps ten of the seventeen full 
turtles may be saved. The type in cases is 
ruined. .The folding machine is also totally 

As one instance of the alacrity with which 
assistance came even from great distances, 
we would hero mention the appearance, at 
seven o'clock Sunday morning, of Steamer 
Kearsarge from Portsmouth, N. H., fully 
manned, accompanied by the mayor of that 
city. It was btationed at once near the Tran- 
script Building, where for several hours it was 
worked with unwearied efficiency. 

Already there has been some compensation 
for the serious disaster and loss to the Tran- 
script in the cordial expressions of sympathy 
and generous offers of aid so promptly ex- 
tended to it. To the proprietors of other 
journals and its numerous patrons and friends 
the Transcript desires to return its sincere 
thanks for their manifestations of good will, 
in this hour of its misfortune. These will 
never be forgotton. 

Every effort will be made to restore the pa- 
per at the earlist moment to its former pros- 
perous condition, and make its publication 
in all respects' what it was before the iutor- 
ruption of its business. 


. . . .One topic and thai 

....The clmrches ne» 
yesterday. At some oth 

. . . .Multitudes of cler' 
trlct cannot find oven t) 
they had eituations. 

....Rev. Mr. Chaney 
ganized his Sunday soho 
morning into an active ( 
food to the exhaustet 

— Wiseacres have 
worse to come after 
have it. 

....The Christian Ur-: 
day in feeding the exha^ 

. . . .Our "pi" Is balced 

....Tlie Old South is i 
the second time in its h. 

The first official i. 

from distant Chicago, 
ber the gotierosity of. 
own. great calamity. 

. . . .Benjamin Frank!" 
lose his birth-place. H 
towards Milk street tl 
right and the old accusl 
to every passer by: "U 

. . . .Every precaution 
by housekeepers, mer 
everybody in charge of ) 
buildings. Oiled rags, • 
dangerous things shoul 

. ...The firemen foug 
vent the fire from cross: 
success saved the area I 
School streets. The hai 
bore' Hotel and the nor 

. ...The absence of a 
thy of a syllable's raent 
of Saturday night and . 
of Boston. Hundreds » 
03 orderly ns if the city 
entire destruction. 

No undue advai 

and other laboring mei. 
of those in sore peril ; a 
instances of extortion ' 
orous action. 

It is a singular ci 

only one church was de 

Now is the time f 

owing debt« in Boston 

Engines from fiv« 

dred and fifteen miles 
fire, at the corner t 
strcctH, this (Monday) 

The Transcrint 

1630, and it don't meai 

The weather has 

the great calamity. ' 
favoring the conflagrai 

Adversity tries 

friends have stood tria 
to express its thanks. 

Styles says bis 

"heavy loes" lists with 
his account — blepsed b 

....The Post of todi 

....To the United S 
credit is due for their 
ncFs; and our citizen 
faithful as veterans. 

The gunpowder i 




was wet through below the knees. I determined 
to go up to Mt. Vernon Street, have a bath, get a 
bite at the Club, and then come down to the fire 
again. But Alderman Power came along with 
some men that I knew in the Council, and wanted 
my help in making some arrangements ,by which 
the firemen could be properly fed. This struck me 
as very good work, so along I Went. The poor 
fellows were very much in evidence in Tremont 
Street, and I saw some in State Street dragging 
their weary way along, drenched to the skin and as 
black as salamanders, in search of breakfast. We 
beat up a few restaurants, and finally fixed mat- 
ters up very well with the United States Hotel. 
I went up to the Hollis Street church, where they 
had opened the chapel and were soliciting con- 
tributions of food and coffee for the firemen. 
After the stifling atmosphere of the burning streets, 
it was good to stand again in the warm sunlight 
and to breathe the good air that drew across the 
Common. I had no idea what time it was until 
I heard the Sunday morning bells of the Back 
Bay and South End. There was an engine work- 

[ 101 ] 


ing in Tremont Street, and the engineer was sitting 
on a box and drinking coffee from a tin can as 
an evidence that my recent labors had not been 
wasted. The drums were beating and the mihtia- 
men in their long coats were coming on duty. A 
troop of cavalry clattered along Boylston Street, 
so you see the soldiers can find horses if the firemen 
can't. The Common was a sight, with huge masses 
of merchandise heaped about in confusion, under 
guard of the owners and their clerks. The great 
crowds that had poured in from the suburbs gave 
things a holiday appearance. Thousands stood 
watching the smoke that rose from the burned 
district, and jostled about the telescope for a nearer 
glimpse of the great tumbled masses that looked 
like huge thundercaps all stained with gray and 
brown. Winter and Bromfield Streets were packed 
with people who peered down their narrow vistas 
into the smoky waste. I marked all this as I was 
dragging myself across the Common to the Club, 
and on Park Street I ran plump into Frank in a 
state of dumb astonishment. He had passed a 

quiet night, had started out to attend service at 

[ 102 ] 


Trinity, and I found him trying to adjust his mind 
to the change that had come over the world. I 
assure you that there were hundreds of good 
sleepers with clear consciences in the same pre- 
dicament. I had no sooner stepped inside the 
Club than they handed me a note, which I found 
to be from Maria, saying that she was at my rooms 
on the hill and must see me at once. I found it had 
been left an hour before, but the cravings of my 
inner man seemed stronger than the claims of con- 
sanguinity, and no chair ever felt as good to me as 
the one into which I dropped in the dining-room. 
There were a dozen fellows breakfasting there — 
some who were burned out and some who expected 
to be. Do you remember that red-headed chap 
wh6 made such a row at Point Shirley last sum- 
mer, the day you had your dinner at Taft's ? 
Well, I found him groaning about having a worse 
time than anybody. He reported that a big gang of 
roughs had got off at the "Know-Nothing" on 
the arrival of the night express from New York. 
No one had any hope for State Street, and one 
man assured us that the Chief Engineer had 

[ 103 ] 


gone crazy and been taken to an insane asylum. All 
this was pleasant to hear. Shorty was the only 
cheerful man I met. His store has gone, of course, 
and he does n't know how he stands on insurance, 
but he said every one was in the same box, and 
at any rate the coffee and fish-balls were good. 
He lost a good cigar among his other trials, some 
one knocking it out of his mouth as he was help- 
ing to unload powder in Devonshire Street. He 
is with me on the explosive question, and says it 
would have been better for the town if powder 
had never been thought of. He says you can't 
make a mining engineer out of a haberdasher or 
a barber by handing him a piece of paper. 

I finished breakfast, and leaving Shorty asleep 
in a chair, with his six feet four spread out all over 
the room, started for the hill. I found Maria wait- 
ing patiently, and she was in a really alarmed and 
tearful state. I thought she was simply mourning 
for the city, but my guess was wild. She had seen 
in the Herald that the militia was to be called out, 
and she was dreading that Freddie, with that 

throat of his, would have to buckle on his armor 

[ 104 ] 


Terrible Coiifllaj>ra- 
tioo ill Boston I 


mim OF TniciTYi 

The Most Costly and Valuable 
Warehouses and Mercan- 
tile Establishments 
liaid in Asbos ! 


The Calamity Attended by 
Lf03S of Liife! 


iJncontrollable Progress of tlie 
Flames ! 


A Tornado Created by the 
Intense Heat. 


Bflildiiigs Lapped Up by ihe Flames 

and E educed to Ashes in 

a Moment. 


Died by Lelanrt & Whealock. gpnts' furmsh- 
in,"- goods and 8awy,r, Mansfield & Co., tm- 
l-or ers of dry goods. • 

Tbe next are Easer, Banlett & Co., woollen 
poods; O. B. Ntrih & bon, liats, caps and 
furs; n-^.xt, Farley, Amsden. & Co., diy eoods 
iobbM-s; hhodes&Ripl y, wrtolesale clotiiiujr. 
The latter firm owned the buudin?. Tha 
buildiuff (,p ositeihj joint of starancr was 
pranite, fuur stories and a half, "occu ied 
largely by Mallyn, Mullen & Lima, aealcrs 
in tnrujain^s, who need ihe entire low.r flour, 
liai-n,Dg Bros. & Co. and G. L. Ide, Carter & 
Co., o, ccupied tne upD r floors. Fron> tins 
ba Idin-.; ' ac oss the &quare, diaircmaily, 
was i stone block occupied bv 
Smith, Ivich <fc Co? son and George 
M. tiUzier, dcrk-rs in cor«jfs. skirts at,d knlf. 
po ds. Ihfl bulldincrs thui Kt n.iir.ed wevi^, 
before 9 o clock, pLicerl bevond any possible, 
chnuce of s.'uctv, and the tirenie.i ett them to 
burn whi^e lliey en eavoie i to ohicK t!ie 
jrosro^s of ti:e mod, devonnnp: clement 
will h was mak'.iTT aiariniuijl.' rai>id a rides 
in :ill d roctions. On the corner ot ( tis and 
Bummer s ree s Ptood the Kverctt block, an 
iwio/iinc: granite s rac ure, owned by the 
Eveie testa c. Ji inclu !ed Noa. 5-i. 54, .56, 5i, 
(0, i>-> and 04 '^uaiiuer slrcet, ;md occupied by 
b, D. LytiDs >i Co.. WeW £ros. &, Dreylua, 
Philips & Shum.Tn, y. E. Kinp: & Co., and 
Warr Bros., dea'e s In clotiiin>?, furnslunir 
coods, lancy goo::s, trimmmss, Ac. The 
Ui-uer floors were used moelly as oH.ces and 
occup ed by various parties. It was ai out 9 
o'clo k w hen ihe flames caucrht on the top of 
this buili'iuff and upon it the eilorts of tha 
euijines located in that vicinity were bent. 
Th : oflbrts we:c Tin:iv;idin<r, however, as 
hardly a drop of water could be got to the 
top of the biiilujncr. A hue of hose was 
soon nm np on the m^iile and the ho.-emeu 
reniaiuo 1 asoncrab they possibly could, s'nv- 
ing to check Ihe llames. Oneiiivmen was seen 
cliupins on to a C(<v t\g at the very top of 
the bni)d'n»' directing a stream on the fire 
whicli was abore )nm and on onosidefiasb- 
Ini^ almost in Ins tace. His peiilous position 
excited .'.ome alarm, but ht a uok till the last 
chauco and theu retired in sa ety. Kow t e 
fire bey.'tn to creep steadily up both 
Bides of Summer street, crawlin? alor 
.+rom root to roof ts though the 
w » a rivalry between the t 
SKics as to which shonld outstrip the other 
speed. Opposite the Everett block, t 
bnilajogs as they were e.igulted in ra, 
success on, were as Ibllows: Ericlc s\\ 
front, occupied by A. Fo som & Sons, fl( 
cloths and oilcloths; George II, Butler, h 
poods; and Eu^ ue Chapin commisSiOin' 
chant; Granite block: Moiife, llamn- 
<te Co., boisery a: d ploves; Stiles, lie: 
Homer, wholesale clothina-; S. Klous & 
hats, capa, and furs; Siroci r Bros., hat 
cap niamiiactureri; \Vvman & 
imported goods and linens: 
Wise & Fuller, hueng and 
goo'Js; Eothwell. LuUier, Totter 
clothing; JMiii.heil, Green & Stevens, cK 
While the fire on the noithsriy side oj 
mer sir ct w;.s niarchin < a onjj on the i 
the Everett bipk, which had not « 
time I ecome largely coveiel, the 
sm.denl/ burst out in anew and uncx 
qi:arter, leaping: across and lisintinsr do 
tne too of a buiidiutr on Arch street, e 
doors removed Irom bummer areet. 
be;ore tlie ex'stence ot the flam 
Quarter was known they had sp 
tinougli the Luildmfir and were bi 
ver.ect torrent from all the \mk 
front of the fancy pood* stor ^ 
Folsom & JMartin. Several st 
(luicklysent toither, but with 
tnau a sinele hue. el-iull of wa' 
pro;ue(d. The hie spread • 
velopme tha stores of i ho'- 
I J. JM. Hcdijdon, cV 
riercj & Co.; Miner 
of which weie qui*** 
tb.! whole ror*" 
sheet of iiam 
: coh'ian o<" ' 



not, bu 

every y. 
poa t ti 
recorU < 
sa!e se^.' 

as ar 


Tne b 
with n. 
trun 8 
while a 
the stiv 
the prov 
the adj. 

street :u 
ly. A n 
cars wh 
tcdie o 

their t 
to t 
a n 













and plunge into danger with the Ancients. As a 
lawyer who knew his frail physical condition, she 
thought I could do something towards getting 
him excused from martial exercises. Do you know 
that girl troubles me.^ She used to have a clear 
understanding and a sense of humor, but this was 
the errand that brought her down-town before 
breakfast! I told her that there was no occasion 
for me to employ the adroitness of my legal mind, 
that the policy of the authorities was always to hold 
the Ancients in reserve for great emergencies, and 
that they would surely not be let loose in the streets 
until the police had been overpowered, the militia 
routed, and the marines and regulars all slain at 
their posts. Moreover, I told her that I regarded 
the present situation as quite peaceful on the 
whole. I waited for her to laugh, to smile, and, 
by Jove ! she did n't, — she was only relieved and 
grateful. I believe she honestly thinks that Freddie 
joined the Ancients because of his yearning to 
bleed for his country. I told her some of the things 
I have described to you, and enlarged upon the 
Kearsarge episode. She thought it was fine and 

[ 106 ] 


splendid to think of that company coming so far 
and doing so much. She thought it was inspiring 
to think of all these brave fellows coming in 
from great distances to save the city, and wished 
she were a man and could do her part in the good 
fight. Her color came back, her eyes flashed, and 
yet if I had told her that Freddie was needed on 
guard she would have fainted on the floor. Well, 
I told her no such thing, and she insisted on my 
taking her where she could see all that was going 
on. I was getting restless myself, so we went out 
to Beacon Street and over the hill. It was one 
o'clock, and in front of the State House we met 
one of the young men from Kidder, Peabody 
and Co.'s oflSce. He said that the fire was burning 
*in the Merchants' Exchange Building, and that, 
while all the mail had been removed to Faneuil 
Hall, they had word from Chief Damrell (who had 
not gone crazy after all) that the danger for State 
Street had passed. He said that Lee, Higginson 
and Co. had a squad of regulars from the forts 
in their office, that the men in the vaults were all 
armed, and that there had been a good deal of 

[ 107 ] 


excitement among the people who were denied 
admission to their boxes. We hurried down into 
Tremont Street and down Court Street, and 
finally through the crowd to a point almost oppo- 
site the Merchants' Bank. There was a great 
crowd here, and State Street was full of pufiing 
engines, and it was almost as dark as night under 
the great pall of smoke they made. There were 
glimmers of red fire in Congress Street, but for 
the most part it was all smoke and noise, with oc- 
casional glimpses of the firemen swarming up and 
down the steps of the Merchants' Exchange. We 
came upon your neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Morse, 
and they said they had just spoken with the Mayor 
and he said the danger was over. The fire had been 
burning in the post office all the morning, and the 
firemen had their hose inside and were driving it 
back. I never saw such a massing of fire engines 
as there was here, and when I told Maria that 
they represented a dozen cities and towns, she 
said it was splendid, that it was like 1775 when 
the New England minute men thronged to Boston 
in her need. We decided to go to the Parker House 

[ 108] 


for a bite of lunch, and turning from Washington 
into School, found the Kearsarge steamer still 
humming away in front of the Old South, a sight 
that delighted Maria's heart. Arrived at the hotel, 
we found it crowded and found also that their 


kitchen had gone absolutely out of business. 
Everything eatable had been devoured by hordes 
of famished strangers. So we went up to the 
Tremont House for a car, and hitched and 
crawled along to Boylston Street, where we found 
ourselves blocked by a crowd that was making 

[ 109 ] 


quite a noisy demonstration. I was hanging to a 
strap and could n't see anything ; but when the 
conductor came through he said that the cheering 
was for some more Providence engines that had 
just come in and passed down Boylston Street. 
Maria was for getting off again, and it took some 
quiet firmness on my part to calm her enthusiasm. 
At the house Maria and I picked away at the cold 
turkey, while Freddie, arrayed in his long dress- 
ing-gown and smoking his pipe, condescended to 
come in and sit with us. He had the hiccoughs, 
but they did n't prevent him from dispensing words 
of wisdom and explaining how easily the fire might 
have been stopped if they had only gone at it in 
the right way. What an ass he is! It was after 
four o'clock when I got to Mt. Vernon Street 
again. You know how I spent the evening in 
writing you. After I mailed your letter I again 
headed for the hill, and had been in bed but half an 
hour when I heard the bell of the Charles Street 
church ringing alarm after alarm from the box 
at the corner of Winter Street and Central Place. 
So I tumbled into my clothes, more asleep than 

[ 110 ] 




awake, stumbled across the Common, and for 
one good hour was as anxious as I had been at 
any time Saturday night. 

I have told you how fortunate it was that the 
Mayor requested the firemen who had come from 
a distance to stay over until Monday. The bur- 
den of this fight fell upon the companies from 
Providence, Fall River, Manchester, New Hamp- 
shire, New Haven and Norwich, Connecticut. 
Chief Damrell had command, and, jaded as he 
must have been, he handled it splendidly. It 
looked for a long time as though Jordan, Marsh 
and Co.'s must go, and only good work saved it. 
There was an engine from Norwich located right 
on the Winter Street corner, and she played the 
best stream I have seen since I got into Summer 
Street Saturday night. They kept it pouring into 
the high Luthern windows on the corner for 
hours, without once shutting down, and that 
was a big factor in keeping the flames from cross- 
ing Washington Street. The company only ar- 
rived about half an hour before the fire broke 
out, and they left for home this morning early, 

[ 111 ] 


after paying their bills at the United States 

As I said, I got to bed at four o'clock and was 
down on State Street at ten. I went to Brewster, 
Sweet and Co.'s, where I found that our Stock 
Exchange had opened, but had adjourned at once 
because of the threatening array of sellers. As you 
may imagine, the New York opening was a wild one. 
Prices tumbled all around at first, but recovered 
considerably before the close at four o'clock. The 
principal stocks showed a loss of from 2 to 3 points 
over the Saturday night closing. Pacific Mail 
declined from 90f to 84. Every one is anxious, of 
course, to know what the Government will do if 
the financial stringency becomes more acute. I saw 
a telegram from Washington to-day, stating that 
Secretary Boutwell is alive to the situation and is 
ready at a moment's notice to counteract a decline 
in bonds or a rise in gold by a purchase of the 
former or l)y selling large amounts of the latter. It 
looks black for our local insurance companies, but 
the foreign companies have, of course, no interest 
here comparable to what they had in Chicago. 

[ 112] 




To conclude, the Union Club house was scorched 
this afternoon. The fire caught in the wooden ele- 
vator over the range in the kitchen, about four 
o'clock, followed up the elevator to the third floor, 
and was stopped there. But smoke and water 
have made the house uninhabitable, and so on 
to the sidewalk we go. By Jove, I wonder if I 
shall ever get the smell of smoke out of my nostrils 
or the throb of the steam-engines out of my ears. 
When I close my eyes I see miles of red flame, and 
in my dreams I hear walls falling, the wind shriek- 
ing, and that infernal never-ceasing hum of the 
engines. I must go up and see Maria's children and 
let them pound it all out of my system on that 
overworked piano. 

I have a lot more to tell you, but not to-night. 
A package of papers goes forward to-day, and you 
can figure out just who of your friends has suf- 
fered. Tell Eleanor for all our sakes not to de- 
spair of Maria, but to insist on her coming out in 
the spring. You can write over that Eleanor has 
the small -pox or something rather disturbing of 
that sort, and we'll manage to get Maria off. 

[ 113 ] 


You know the life she leads, and how much she 
needs a change. If she will only leave him, we 
can take hold here and perhaps make a man of 
Freddie yet. 

Always yours. 


MU Vernon St., November 15, 1872. 

Dear Harry, — 

I received your cable on Wednesday 
and replied to it the same day. There is no pos- 
sible use in your coming home, and, indeed, you 
are one of the few men I know whose interests are 
not seriously affected by this fire. Your presence 
here will not help the securities market, your prop- 
erty is unharmed, and you would only make one 
more in the worrying crowd that is trying to 
straighten out the confusion and making more in 
the process. 

The principal streets north and south are of 
course blocked by the wreckage of the fire, and 
the result is that Tremont Street is jammed with 
traffic from walk to walk. It forms to-day the 
only practicable line of communication between 
the North and South ends, although the route via 
Cambridge and Charles Streets is now helping us 
out somewhat. We hope to have Washington 
Street reopened by to-morrow night, but there is 

[ 115 ] 


still much to be done there in cleaning up and 
taking down dangerous walls. 

We have word this morning that the Malta has 
put into Halifax with a broken shaft, so my 
struggles to get off my letters by her were all labor 
wasted. I suppose this will go out by the Olympus 
to-morrow, and if it is the first word you have of 
the fire from me, I would have you know that 
there are solid ounces of descriptive matter from 
my pen which started earlier and will arrive later. 

The fire which destroyed the Summer Street 
corner shortly after midnight on Sunday was the 
result of a gas-explosion. It seems that the gas 
leaking all over the burned district had become 
confined under fallen masonry and in some way 
found its way into the sewers. When Shreve, 
Crump and Low's blew up, the iron covers of the 
man-holes all about that district went sailing 
through the air like so many autumn leaves. It is 
a wonder that many were not killed in the early 
stages of that fire, and I hear that at first the coun- 
try firemen did n't like their job a bit. But they 
buckled down to their work later, and held the fire, 

[ IIG ] 



as I stated in my last. The gas people shut off the 
supply at once, and do you know that Monday 
and Tuesday nights our streets and houses were 
absolutely without light? I had tickets for Ar- 
ticle Jf7 at the Museum for Monday night, but 
they had to close their doors, with all the other 
theatres in town. There was a great rush for lamps, 
oil, and candles, and people in those lines of busi- 
ness made a good thing out of the public misfor- 
tune. I bought a couple of brass lamps and a lot 
of candles for mother's house, but found after- 
wards that my precautions were unnecessary, as 
Roxbury had light. I had to go down to the 
Parker House Tuesday evening, and it was a queer 
sight to see the dining-room lit by candles on the 
tables, and every one spoiling their eyes in trying 
to read the evening papers. The night was rainy 
with a high wind, the moon of course hidden, 
and, with the streets as dark as a pocket and with 
rumors flying about of new importations of roughs, 
you can imagine that we did not feel very secure. 
I understand that my good neighbors in the West 
End organized themselves into armed committees 

[ 118] 


and patrolled the streets ; but as I spent Monday 
and Tuesday nights at mother's, I know nothing 
of it except by hearsay. I got out father's old re- 
volver which I think had been loaded ever since 
1863, and if I had been called upon to fire it, I sup- 
pose it would have destroyed the house and every 
one in it. The police have done well, but the sol- 
diers were, of course, our principal reliance. The 
Cadets went off duty Monday night, when the Fifth 
Regiment was called out. Some of the First Regi- 
ment, quartered in the Old South, struck the bell 
the other night and created a panic all about there 
by giving the impression that there was another fire. 
They have n't found the culprits, but it was a dirty 
thing to do when every one is so nervous that they 
jump a mile at the sound of a fire-alarm. I looked 
into the Old South one evening, and saw the sol- 
diers curled up asleep in the pews and all over the 
floor. It w^as rainy and cold, the windows were all 
broken in, and it was a picture of discomfort. The 
papers point out that this is the first military occu- 
pation of the church since the British used it as a 
riding-school way back in Revolutionary days. 

[ 119 ] 


There were complaints of drunkenness among the 
out-of-town firemen on Saturday and Sunday. The 
truth seems to be that the country firemen brought 
in a lot of hangers-on from their towns, some of 
whom donned firemen's uniforms without hanker- 
ing for hard work, and it was among these idlers 
that the trouble occurred. The rum-shops have 
been closed this week, so the poor man goes dry. 
Shorty says that he was accosted yesterday in front 
of the St. Joachim Bazar by a chap who probably 
had n't been sober for years, and who said, 
'* What 's the use of having such a h — 1 of a fire 
in Boston if a feller can't get a drink .^" I thought 
the gentleman's point of view very interesting. 
Some of the clergymen tell us that the fire was 
sent as a warning to us to mend our ways, but here 
is a man who holds other views and who asserts 
that the fire has utterly failed of its object. 

The fire at the Club was not so bad as I thought, 
and, now that we have gas again, you can be very 
comfortable there if you don't object to the com- 
bined odor of smoke and fresh paint. There was 
great excitement in the house while the fire lasted. 

[ 120 ] 


The soldiers came with a rush, and Park Street 
was jammed with engines all drawn by hand, ex- 
cept one from Manchester, N. H., which was pro- 
pelled by its own steam. I never heard of such 
a machine, but if one has been built I prophesy that 
in five years all of our engines will run that way. 
If they can only apply the same principle to street 
cars, drays, and wagons, horse epidemics will lose 
their terrors for the future. 

They had a grand row on Kilby Street Sunday 
morning over the use of powder. I hear two or 
three versions of the story, but it appears to have 
come down to a direct conflict between the fire- 
men and the powder brigade. It seems that Gen- 
eral Benham, who is in command of the harbor 
forts, volunteered his services at City Hall, and 
left there early Sunday morning wdth the idea that 
he was in charge of the powder operations. In 
the mean time the Fire Chief, alarmed by the re- 
ports of his officers, had rescinded his permits and 
ordered his men to have the explosions stopped, 
to arrest and if necessary to kill any one attempt- 
ing to use powder. The rumor got into State Street 

[ 122 ] 


about daylight that the Chief had turned against 
powder and that Benham had threatened to blow 
up the buildings on the southerly side between 
Kilby and Congress, ''Damrell or no Damrell." 
At all events Alderman Woolley interfered with 
some men who were carrying powder into a build- 
ing on Kilby Street, and, the police supporting 
him, he had it all brought out. Then Benham 
came along and ordered them to take it in again. 
Woolley objected, and Benham came up and 
asked if he knew who he was. Woolley said he 
did n't. Then says the other, " I am General 
Benham." Woolley announced that he did n't 
care if he was "General Damnation," the powder 
should n't go in. I understand that Benham then 
showed some authority from the Mayor or the 
Chief, and that the powder did go in. I also under- 
stand that it came out again by order of the Chief 
or one of his assistants, and that was the last of pow- 
der for this fire. While the rumpus was going on, 
the firemen w^ere mixing in it, and of course doing 
everything except throwing water. It is only fair 
to say that the general denies that he ever said 

[ 123 ] 


he would blow up State Street or in any way op- 
pose the Chief. They also deny from the Mayor's 
office that they gave Benham any authority, merely 
recommending that he place his professional ex- 
perience at the disposal of the Chief Engineer. 
So I give you the story as I get it, and you can 
make up your own mind as to facts. 

Shorty tells me that he saw your former comrade 
in arms, Henry Higginson, driving a wagon-load of 
powder along State Street on Sunday morning, right 
among the engines that were throwing sparks in all 
directions . It seems that he had been ordered by 
General Benham to go down to Central Wharf, get 
the powder, which the government tug-boat had 
brought up from the forts, and deliver it at the cor- 
ner of State and Kilby. When Shorty suggested 
that he was on dangerous business, Higginson 
replied that it seemed to him a wicked thing to do, 
but orders were orders and that was all there was 
to it. I suppose that 's what army training does for 
a man. Shorty says even army training would n't 
do it for him, and when they commenced to unload 
the powder right there in the street he got around 

[ 124 ] 


the corner with all the agility of the young man 
on the flying trapeze. 

There was a great time at the Union Safe De- 
posit Vaults ; they had regulars on guard, as I think 
I wrote you, and armed employes on duty day and 
night. I had a talk yesterday with young Lyman 
in Lee, Higginson and Co.'s office, and he gave 
a very laughable account of their troubles, and 
mimicked a lot of our solid people who came 
down there in a panic on Sunday to remove their 
valuables. He gave, too, a funny description of 
the employes who had abandoned their pens for 
firearms. Of course, things at the Vaults were 
terribly serious, but it is pleasant to find any one 
who can be jocose in discussing our calamity. 

Last night I took Maria to Mr. Froude's lecture 
in Tremont Temple. There was a beggarly audi- 
ence, and I thought Mr. F. was not pleased. He 
said that he should have preferred to cancel the 
engagement in view of existing conditions, but it 
had been represented to him that the public de- 
sired the course to go on without interruption. He 
talked about the English in Ireland, but I was n't 

[ 125 ] 


much interested. Maria took notes, and I sup- 
pose got something out of it. 

No one knows just where they stand at present. 
The safes are being recovered from the ruins with 


all kinds of results. It would seem that all our 
local insurance companies, with the possible ex- 
ception of one or two, are gone, and it is problemat- 
ical as to just what they will pay. Shorty finds he is 
covered by policies in English companies, so he 

[ 126 ] 


comes out well, as he deserves to. He got his safe 
out yesterday, and found the contents all right. 
The firemen of the Mount Vernon Street engine 
were good to him, and played a stream into his 
cellar to cool things off. I have an idea that they 
may get cigars or a piano out of it, for there is 
nothing mean about Shorty. Did I write you of 
how he worked on the brakes of a Wakefield hand- 
engine Saturday night? As he was wandering 
about lending a hand here and there, he fell in 
with the Wakefield tub down on Broad Street. He 
made up his mind to work off his despair by hard 
labor, and he says they '' shook it out of her " in 
great shape and that he has n't had such a time in 
years. He says Wakefield had no call for help from 
Boston, but seeing the light of the fire they started 
off to find it. After running thirteen miles, they 
found it sure enough, and found Shorty, too, 
anxious to lend a hand on the brakes. 

I had a call Tuesday from Bob Palmer, and 
he gave me an account of how Shorty met the 
first shock of disaster. Bob left Chicago ten days 
ago, and came over from New York to spend a 

[ 127 ] 


quiet Sunday with his old chum. He says they 
came downtown late in the evening, and when they 
got where they could look into Franklin Street the 
whole five stories of Shorty's building were in the 
cellar. Bob says that Shorty made but two remarks 
in his presence, and lit a cigar between them. The 
first was, "Well, I'll be d— d!" The other, 
*' Come, let her rip, it's too hot to stay here." The 
next moment he was helping load a wagon from 
a store farther up the street, and then went around 
to lend a hand at Palmer and Bachelder's, after 
sending Bob home to keep the family from worry- 

People have taken their losses in all kinds of 

ways. Billy H cried, and so did others for 

that matter. Poor Sawney got drunk, but that 
might have happened had there been no fire. 
Ned carried on like a madman when he found 
after the play that Otis Street had gone, and they 
took him home in a hack before midnight. Most 
of our friends have shown real pluck. Bob, by the 
way, has become a thorough Westerner, and main- 
tains that we have n't had much of a fire and that 

[ 128 ] 












I— I 















altogether it was a pretty tame show as compared 
with Chicago's effort of a year ago. 

By the way, Freddie honored me with a call 
this morning at my office. He dropped in to say 
that I had been gulling Maria with my Kearsarge 
story, and that he had it on indisputable author- 
ity that brands on the Old South steeple were 
few and far between, and that engines from New- 
ton, Watertown, or somewhere near home, put 
them out. I do hear that every one is claiming the 
credit of having "saved" the church, but I shall 
stand by the story of my tall friend and the Kear- 
sarge of Portsmouth. I know you will be glad to 
hear of my call and what caused it. It's so like 

I heard a good story to-day about Mr. Endicott 
of Hovey's firm. He was at his home in Beverly, 
and did n't hear of the fire until Sunday morn- 
ing. He went over to Salem, and, finding no train, 
rode up with an expressman over the road. On 
reaching Boston he tried to pay his driver for his 
pains, but the man refused any compensation. 
Mr. E. insisting, the fellow said that he could n't 

[ 129 ] 


take anything from him, because Hovey's had 
been burned early the previous night, and he 
had n't the heart to tell him before. In view of the 
circumstances, this story has both a humorous and 
humanitarian interest, and serves to show some- 
thing of the spirit of the times. 

The open lands on the Back Bay and down Fort 
Hill way are to be used for temporary business struc- 
tures, and the city government is considering giv- 
ing over the Common for the same purpose. But 
this will never do, and will raise a public howl. 
Moreover, I don't believe that it is at all necessary. 
The Coliseum is garrisoned by troops and used 
for the storage of goods. This enormous fire-trap 
has been a terrible bugbear of late, people fearing 
it might be set afire and start another conflagra- 
tion. I heard to-night that it is to be sold at auc- 
tion within a week, on the understanding that it 
shall be taken down at once. The financial situa- 
tion continues strained, and the banks are very 
timid. The Freeman's, Everett, Shawmut, Mount 
Vernon, North America, and Revere, were burned 
out, but all but the Freeman's found the contents 

[ 130] 


of their safes in good order. There is a remarkable 
situation at the Freeman's. I have the story from 
Henry Rogers, whose father, as you know, is Pre- 
sident of the Bank. When their safe fell, it was 
broken by striking on a stone pillar, and when 
opened all the money, notes and papers were 
found blackened and charred. There was a list 
of the depositors in the hands of the printer, and 
one cash book had been taken home by the 
Cashier to trace some trifling error. These com- 
prised the sum total of the bank's books and 
records when it opened for business on Monday. 
The officers commenced operations by calling in 
the pass books and requesting their customers to 
bring in a record of their indebtedness to the bank. 
Do you know, they have had a crowd of people at 
the counter all this week signing new notes to take 
the place of those destroyed. Henry says it has 
been a most wonderful exhibition of mercantile 
honor and he does n't believe they had one skulker 
on their books. The majority of these people have 
lost heavily, but they don't propose that the bank 
shall lose if they can rake enough out of the ruins 

[ 131 ] 


to pay their notes. It is a hard time for thousands 
of employes of homeless concerns, but few dwell- 
inf^s were burned, so there is little distress from 
that cause. There are some ugly rumors about 
the origin of the fire, and there is a dispute as to 
whether it took in the roof or basement of the 
building first consumed. There will be an inves- 
tigation, of course, and I have an idea that they 
will find that it caught in some way from the 
boiler-fire in the basement, which was located 
close to the elevator-shaft. Of course one hears 
criticism of everybody who took a hand in trying 
to stay the fire. Men who snored in their beds 
while the flames were raging now tell us of how 
easily the destruction might have been stopped. I 
have said some things myself about the powder 
men, and yet I must admit that they acted bravely 
and risked their lives for the public good. The 
Chief Engineer is the principal target for the critics, 
and they claim that he fought the fire piecemeal and 
not according to a good set plan. I imagine that the 
criticism is fair enough, but after the water gave out 

in Summer Street, as it did, and the fire went gal- 

[ 132 ] 


loping in all directions through wooden roofs piled 
way up out of reach, plans were at a discount, and 
the best scheme in the world would have miscar- 
ried because of lack of means to carry it out. The 
truth is, no one believed that such a thing could 
happen, and so no one was prepared to meet it. 
I confess that I don't see now how the fire ever got 
so utterly beyond control in the first building. 
Had it been a night like the one on which the 
Adelphi Theatre burned, I could have understood 
it, but weather conditions were all favorable and 
the air still and mild. There is a good deal of talk 
about the horse disease having demoralized the 
fire department, but I don't know what the truth 
is. I suppose the devil had a hand in things, and 
that is reason enough. A dozen firemen lost 
their lives, and most of these were from out of 
town. Both officers of the Roxbury Ladder Truck 
were killed in one of the Washington Street 

The question of changes in the old street lines 
is already being discussed. Some radicals argue 
for the obliteration of all the old lines and planting 

[ 133 ] 


a bit of Philadelphia's gridiron design in our 

There is no doubt that Washington and Sum- 
mer streets will be widened, and I think that Haw- 
ley and Arch will also be broadened into real 
streets. There is a scheme for connecting Frank- 
lin and Sturgis streets, making a wide thorough- 
fare from Washington to Broad. We have a great 
chance to make things better, and I don't think 
we shall altogether miss it. 

We have had tenders of financial aid from all 
over the United States, and I am sorry to say that 
some of these offers have been accepted. The 
generosity displayed throughout the country is 
really magnificent ; but we are quite able to care 
for our own, and I see no reason why Philadelphia, 
Chicago, and other cities should be bled when 
there is no occasion for it. If the matter can be 
arranged decently, all outside funds accepted in a 
moment of panic should be politely and gratefully 
returned. I think it may come to this, as our home 
contributions are pouring in fast. Even Freddie 
has risen to the occasion. Shorty is down for a 

[ 134 ] 

The following is a diagram of the proposed remsion of streets in the 
burnt district, prepai-ed at the City Hall under the general direction of 
the committee on streets. 

On this plan the black lines stand for the 
existing streets; the irregular dotted line, 
from near Liverpool Wharf to Congress 
Square and thence, through Washington and 
Summer, to Federal Street, marks the bound- 
ary of the fire. The light lines in the draw- 
ing indicate the proposed widenings and 
extensions. The principal changes are these : 
Federal Street is made a main avenue, eighty 
feet wide, to the foot of Summer Street, and 
so on to South Boston ; widened on the right 
coming toward State Street, and swinging to 
the right from the foot of Franklin Street, so 
as to pass the new post office on the east 
side into Congress Street, which is widened 
on the left to State. 

Summer Street is widened on the left, going 
from Washington in several places, and on 
the right between Lincoln and South streets. 

Washington Street is widened to sixty feet 
on the right coming toward Cornhill. 

Bedford Street is widened on the right 
going from Kingston to (Church Green, and 
the Church (ireen lot is rounded otf . 

Franklin Street is extended across Devon- 
shire, Federal, and Congress streets to Stur- 

gis, and is widened on the south side between 
Devonshire and Federal . 

Hawley Street is widened to forty feet, 
mainly on the right from Summer, and is cut 
through to Milk Street. 

Chauncy Street is widened and cut through 
to the junction of Devonshire and Milk 
streets ; and Arch Street is discontinued. 

Otis Street is widened on the right from 
Summer to Winthrop Square, and on the left 
to Franklin Street. 

Devonshire Street is widened on the left 
from Summer to Winthrop Square, and 
straightened and widened on the right to 

Congress Street is widened on the right 
from Broad to the junction with Federal 
Street, and thence discontinued. 

Pearl Street is carried to the junction of 
Water and Federal streets. 

Milk Street is widened on the right from 
Washington to Broad Street ; and Water 
Street on the left to Batterymarch. 

Broad Street is widened on the water side 
from Summer to Oliver; and Purchase is 
widened on the right from Summer Street. 



good round sum, and now he talks of buying the 
Norwich engine I wrote about, and presenting it 
to the city as a thank offering. 

I suppose that you are well on your way to 
Rome by this time. I hope at least that you are 
not hanging about Paris for more bad news. Go 
ahead and enjoy yourself, and be sure that you 
are doing all that any good Bostonian in your 
place can do. Of course if you were here, you 
would be on relief committees and all that sort of 
thing, but there are lots of good men for that work, 
every one is willing, and we shall recover from this 
smash-up with a rush when we once get the step 
again. You say that Paris has done wonders in 
repairing the devastation of the Commune. I 
prophesy that we shall outdo Paris in wiping out 
all traces of our calamity, for there is a lot of 
pluck and life left yet in this good old town. 

Always yours. 



The newspapers of the day contain all the interesting cur- 
rent gossip concerning the fire of 1872. " Carleton's " Story 
of the Great Fire, and Col. Russell H. Conwell's History 
of the Great Fire, were written at the time, to supply the gen- 
eral demand for some connected narrative of the event. The 
Boston Fire, by F. E. Frothingham, published in 1873, con- 
tains " the losses in detail of both real and personal estate. 
Also, a complete list of insurance losses." A full list of all 
firms burned out may be found in the annual report of 
the Fire Department for 1872. This document also con- 
tains a complete roster of the Fire Department, the assign- 
ment for duty of each company, and some interesting com- 
ments of the Chief Engineer upon the conflagration. But 
the principal authority is the Report of the Commission ap- 
pointed to investigate the cause and management of the Great 
Fire in Boston. In this volume of 656 pages is to be found 
all the evidence taken before the Commission. Here we look 
upon the conflagration through the eyes of cool-headed fire- 
men, of anxious merchants, of frightened city fathers, and 
of citizens of all sorts. Here is everything, from the laconic 
statements of fire engineers to the amazing recitations of 
persons who dreamed dreams and saw visions. The testi- 
mony of the enginemen and drivers of the various companies 

[ 139] 


is especially valuable as determining the manner in which 
they responded to the various alarms, and the delays that 
ensued as the result of the prevalence of the horse distemper. 
In the Boston Public Library is a compilation prepared 
by H. H. Estabrook for the Firemen's Standard in 1901, 
giving voluminous data concerning the work of the firemen 
on November 9 and 10. Augustus Thorndike Perkins's 
" Losses to Literature and the Fine Arts by the Great Fire 
in Boston " was prepared for the New England Historic 
Genealogical Society, and published in 1873. 

[ 140 ] 





Ward Ward 

1. William Woolley 7. S. A. Stackpole 

2. George D. Ricker 8. Sydney Squires 

3. Moses Fairbanks IL William C. Poland 
3. Thomas L. Jenks 12. James Power 

6. John T. Clark 14. Samuel Little 

6. Leonard R. Cutter 16. William Sayward 



1. James Smith, Frederick Pease, William F. Brooks, 

Joshua Weston. 

2. William Cunningham, Neil Doherty, Patrick 

Collins, T. J. Dacey. 

3. Stephen D. Salmon, Jr., Horace E. Walker, 

George P. Kingsley, Thomas J. Anderson. 

4. A. A. Clatur, John Robertson, Edward O. Shep- 

ARD, William E. Bicknell. 

5. Amos L. No yes, William H. Flanders, Francis H. 

Hughes, Horace Loring. 
[ 141 ] 


6. David L. Webster, William E. Perkins, Henry W. 

Pickering, Edward J. Holmes. 

7. James J. Flynn, J. T. Casey, J. B. Martin, A J. 


8. Isaac H. Robbins, Benjamin Heath, David Whis- 

TON, Charles Darrow. 

9. Washington L. Prescott, C. A. Page, E. P. Wilbur, 

John S. Moulton. 

10. Stephen L. Emery, J. F. Marston, Frederick S. 


11. M. F. Dickinson, Jr., W. F. Robinson, A. H. Caton, 

W. W. Blackmar. 

12. Charles H. Hersey, Freeborn Adams, Jr., W. H. 

Hart, J. H. Locke. 

13. Thomas Brennan, Bartholomew Dolan, J. M. 

Mullane, Daniel Dowd. 

14. William H. Jones, Isaac P. Gragg, T. C. Faxon, 

H. D. Bradt. 

15. James Devine, Charles D. Bickford, William 

G. Thacher, H. a. Wright. 

16. William H. West, Charles A. Burditt, G. L. Burt, 

Hartford Davenport. 



The ordinance in force in 1872 provided that a Chief 
Engineer of the Fire Department and fourteen Assistant 
Engineers should be elected annually by a concurrent vote 
of the two branches of the City Council, and they were sub- 
ject to removal at pleasure by the same body. Members of 
the department were appointed by the Mayor with the con- 
sent of the Aldermen; but any member below the rank of 
assistant engineer could be dismissed by the Mayor without 
reference to either chamber of the Council. The steam fire 
engine companies consisted of eleven men, — an engineer, 
fireman, and driver, who served permanently, and eight call 
hosemen, who did duty only at fires. One of these call men 
was nominated annually by each company as foreman, his 
election being subject to the approval of the Board of En- 
gineers and of the Board of Aldermen. This officer, while 
in command at fires, had no authority in the company quar- 
ters, the engineer being supreme when the apparatus was 
not in service. Each hose and ladder company consisted 
of a permanent driver, with a corresponding complement 
of call men who nominated their foreman annually in the 
same way as the engine companies. Only the permanent 
men rode to fires, the hose being carried on a two-wheeled 
reel, or jumper, which was attached to the rear of the en- 

[ 143 ] 


gine. Steamer companies 6, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17 were sup- 
plied with horse hose-carriages, and carried an extra driver 
on their permanent rolls. The detached hose companies 
were maintained in Boston for economical reasons only, the 
low water-pressure in the city never justifying their exist- 
ence. It was the practice of these companies to attach their 
hose to any steamer playing a single stream, and this cus- 
tom never produced more unfortunate results than in the 
early stages of the Great Fire. The organization of the Fire 
Department was as follows : — 


Committee on Fire Department 
Alderman William Woolley 
" Leonard R. Cutter 

John T. Clark 
Councilman William M. Flanders 
John S. Moulton 
" George L. Burt 

" James F. Marston 

" W^illiam H. Jones 

Chief Engineer, John S. Damrell 

Assistant Engineers 

Joseph Dunbar Rufus B. Farrar 

Zenas E. Smith James Munroe 

William A. Green John Colligan 
George Brown Joseph Barnes 

John W. Regan Sylvester H. Hebard 

[ 144 ] 


John S. Jacobs Levi W. Shaw 

Phineas D. Allen George W. Clark 

Steam Fire Engine Companies 

MazeppaNo. 1. — Dorchester, near Fourth Street, South Boston. 

S. R. Spinney No. 2. — Fourth Street, between L and K, South 

Eagle No. 3. — Washington Street, near Dover. 

Barnicoat No. 4. — Brattle Square (temporary quarters). 

Elisha Smith No. 5. — Marion Street, East Boston. 

Melville No. 6. — Wall Street. 

T. C. Amory No. 7. — East Street. 

Northern Liberty No. 8. — Salem Street, 

Maverick No. 9. — Paris Street, East Boston. 

Cataract No. 10. — Mt. Vernon, corner River Street. 

John S. Damrell No. IL — Sumner Street, East Boston, 

Warren No. 12. — Corner Warren and Dudley streets, Roxbury 

Tremont No. 13. — Cabot Street, Roxbury District. 

Dearborn No. 14. — Centre Street, Roxbury District. 

Walter E. Hawes No. 15, — Corner Dorchester Avenue and 
Broadway Extension. 

S. H. Hebard No. 16. —Temple Street, Ward 16. 

Protector No. 17. — Meeting House Hill, Ward 16. 

Torrent No. 18. — Harvard Street, Ward 16. 

Alert No. 19. — Norfolk Street, Dorchester District. 

Independence No. 20. — Walnut Street, Ward 16. 

J. H. Upham No. 21. — Boston Street, Ward 16. 

Horse Hose -Companies 
Washington No. 1. — Salem Street. 
Union No. 2. — Hudson, between Harvard and Oak streets. 

[ i« ] 


Franklin No. 3. — North Grove Street. 

Chester No. 4. — Northampton Street. 

Suffolk No. 5. — Shawmut Avenue, near Canton Street. 

William Woolley No. 6. — 391 Chelsea Street, East Boston. 

Eliot No. 7. — Tremont Street, Roxbury District. 

Tremont No. 8. — Church Street, between Fayette and Mel- 
rose streets. 

Lawrence No. 9. — B Street, South Boston. 

Bradlee No. 10. — Dorchester Street, Washington Village, 
South Boston. 

Webster No. 11. — Engine House No. 9, East Boston. 

Hook and Ladder Companies 

Warren No. 1. — Warren Square. 

Washington No. 2. — Sumner, corner Orleans Street, East 

Franklin No. 3. — Harrison Avenue, corner Wareham Street. 

Washington No. 4. — Eustis Street, Roxbury District. 

Hancock No. 5. — Fourth Street, near Dorchester Street, 
South Boston. 

Gen. Grant No. 6. —Temple Street, Ward 16. 

Everett No. 7. — Meeting House Hill, Ward IG. 

Extinguisher Corps No. 1. — Bulfinch Street. 
Extinguisher Corps No. 2. — Hook and Ladder House No. 3. 
Extinguisher Corps No. 3. — Engine House No. 9, East Bos- 

[ 14G ] 



The building in which the fire originated was owned by 
Seman Klous. The basement and first floor were occupied 
by Tebbetts, Baldwin & Davis, wholesale dry-goods mer- 
chants, the second floor by Damon, Temple & Co., dealers 
in men's furnishing goods, while A. K. Young leased the 
rest of the building for the manufacture and sale of hoop- 
skirts and bustles, and for the sale of corsets. After an 
exhaustive inquiry the special commission appointed by the 
Mayor to investigate the cause and management of the fire 
reported as follows : " It is conclusively proved that the fire 
began near the elevator in the rear of the basement of the 
building, and passed with great rapidity up the elevator to 
the upper stories. . . . The condition of the floor, after 
the ruin, shows that it probably began near the ceiling. To 
the more important question how the fire began, no answer 
can be given. There is no evidence whatever criminating 
any of the occupants of the building, nor is there anything 
to show that it caught from the furnace or the boiler, ex- 
cept the fact that it began in that portion of the building. 
And the condition of the boiler and its surroundings, after 
the fire and the excavations, as described by witnesses, and 
as observed by members of the Commission, seem to show 

[ 147] 


that it did not take from the heating apparatus, unless it 
took from some flue. Of this there is no evidence." 

Delays resulting from the Horse Disease 

The investigating commission appointed by the Mayor 
v^^ent very conscientiously into the question of the response 
of the engines to the alarms given for the great fire, and one 
of the longest sections in their report is devoted to the " De- 
lay from want of horses." Their conclusions were that " time 
was invaluable and time was lost," and that all but two of 
the engines were "delayed from three to five minutes for 
the nearest, to forty minutes for the most distant." They 
declared that the horses of the fire department were un- 
doubtedly unfit for use, but that " the fatal error lay in not 
having supplied their places with others able to do the work. 
. . . There is no evidence that this occurred to any one, 
but it ought to have occurred to those whose especial duty 
it was to guard the community from the perils of fire." 

This censure is severe enough, and yet the fact remains 
that the failure to hire horses was responsible for only a 
portion of the delay. The trouble, so far as the downtown 
companies were concerned, arose less from the slow pro- 
gress of the steamers through the streets, than from the 
simple fact that the steamers did not start. It was the order 
emanating from the meeting of October 26, suspending the 
taking out of steamers on first alarms, that played havoc 
with a critical situation. Under the running card we have 
seen that, in response to a call from Box 52, six steamers 

[ 148 ] 


should have been at work within ten minutes. According 
to the testimony of the firemen themselves, it took twenty 
minutes to gather this force on the night of November 9. 
As it was imperative that fires in the vicinity of Box 52 
should be met in their incipiency, that they should not be 
allowed to develop great heat, because of the lack of water 
to control a large body of flame or to protect surrounding 
property from its menace, it was dangerous, of course, to 
decrease the speed with which the engines travelled in the 
streets. But it was far more dangerous to hold them in re- 
serve in quarters until repeated alarms had announced a 

The following tables have been compiled with a view to 
showing what the response of the department was on Novem- 
ber 9 as compared with what it would have been a month 
earlier with the regular running card in force. The running 
time of each company is based largely upon the testimony 
given before the Commission, testimony that certainly 
would not tend to magnify the discrepancy in speed be- 
tween hand and horse-power. The first table shows the 
various alarms given for the great fire, how engines should 
have responded under the running card, and how they act- 
ually did respond on November 9, the running card being 

The second table shows the approximate time at which 
engines were due to arrive at Box 52, operating under the 
running card, and the approximate time that they did 
arrive, moving under the special regulations of October 26. 

[ 149 ] 


Table I 

Response of En- 

Alarms given for the Great Fire as set forth in 
the Annual Report of the Fire Department 

gines to Box 52, 
as provided in 
the Department 

Response of En- 
gines to Box 52 
on Nov. 9, 1872 

running card 

Box 52 

1st alarm 

7.24 p. M. 

Engines 3 

Engine 7 




Bedford and 







Box 52 

2d alarm 

7.29 p. M. 

Engine 1 

Engine 4 

Box 52 

3d alarm 

7.34 p. M. 

Engine 12 

Engine 3 

Box 52 

4th alarm 

7.45 p. M. 

Engine 2 

Engine 1 

(3 Twelves) 




" 12 

" 13 

" 14 


" 18 


Box 52 

5th alarm 

8 p. M. 

The 4th or gen- 
eral alarm was 

Engine 15 
" 16 
" 19 

supposed to 
summon the 

entire depart- 

ment with the 

exception of 

8.17 p. M. 

engine 15 

Box 123 

6th alarm 

Engine 20 





Box 123 

7th alarm 

(3 Twelves) 

8.24 p. M. 

No response 

Box 48 

10.09 p. M. 

No response 


Hartford and 



[ 150 ] 


Table II 

itpproximate time 
at which engines 
should have arrived 
at fire by horse- 
power, following 
the regular run- 
ning card 

Approximate time 
engines did arrive 
at fire, mider the 
special regulations 
of Oct. 26, 1872 

Minutes late 

Engine No. 


































On Time 










15 t 





























































Discretion was used by some company officers, fortunately 

in the cases of Engines 9, 10, and 11, less fortunately in 

the case of Engines 1, 12, 19, and 20. The case of Engine 

15 is worthy of mention. This company was nearer to the 

fire than any other, with the exception of No. 7, but they 

* Used horses. 

t Detained by Broadway drawbridge being open. 

X Arrived ahead of time. 

** Engine 15 not to leave South Boston except by order of engineer. 

[ 151 ] 


had instructions not to leave South Boston except by or- 
der of an engineer. A messenger could have reached their 
house from Summer Street in five minutes, but they did 
not start until eight o'clock, thirty-six minutes after the 
sounding of the first alarm, and not until at least three 
more distant engines had passed their quarters on their way 
downtown. The rules governing Engine 15 had nothing to 
do with the special regulations of October 26, being a part 
of the regular running card. 


The evidence bearing upon the use of powder in fighting 
the conflagration will be found in the well-indexed report 
of the investigating commission. In its summing up, the 
Commission expressed itself as follows : " There is a conflict 
of testimony as to the balance of good or evil arising from 
the use of gunpowder on November 9 and 10. It is less 
necessary to strike the balance accurately, because all wit- 
nesses agree, and all sane people will agree, that explosives 
never should be used again, as they were at that time, and 
that, if used at all, we should be prepared to employ them, 
skilfully, carefully, and by a fixed plan." The City Ordi- 
nance provided that a building could be demolished only 
by consent of three Engineers, and two or three hours before 
he gave out his permits at City Hall the Chief summoned 
his assistants to confer with him in Federal Street as to the 
wisdom of using powder. As a result there was a long pe- 
riod when nearly all of the Engineers were withdrawn from 
the direction of their men and were engaged in fighting 
their way through crowds in efforts to find their com- 
mander. At this time the out-of-town companies were fast 
arriving and there was no one in authority to locate them 
or to superintend their getting to work. Several of the 

[ 153 ] 


Engineers left their posts only after repeated summons, and 
their withdrawal from fire fighting at a critical time was 
doubtless attended by bad results. 

[ 154 ] 



Old Trinity seemed safe all night, but towards morning 
the fire swept into her rear, and there was no chance. She 
went at four in the morning. I saw her well afire inside and 
out, carried off some books and robes, and left her. She 
burnt majestically, and her great tower stands now solid 
as ever, a most picturesque and stately ruin. She died in 
dignity. I did not know how much I liked the great gloomy 
old thing till I saw her windows bursting and the flame 
running along the old high pews. — Phillips Brooks to 
Miss Mitchell, Nov. 12, 1872. (Allen's Life and Letters 
of Phillips Brooks, vol. ii, p. 67.) 

Mr. Brooks was sitting in one of the pews of Trinity 
Church, with Mr. Dillon the sexton, resting after the fa- 
tigues of the awful night, when the flames were seen steal- 
ing in at the roof of the northeast corner. They waited there 
together, watching the progress of the flames, until it be- 
came unsafe to remain. As they were hurriedly leaving the 
building, Mr. Dillon, in his excitement, threw open the 
great doors of the tower and fastened them back, as had 
been his habit for many years when the congregation was to 
disperse after service was over, — this last time, as it were, 

[ 155] 


for the invisible crowd of witnesses to take their final de- 
parture. — Allen's Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks, 
vol. ii, p. 68. 

[ 156 ] 



I HOVERED r6und the Safety Vaults in State Street, where 
I had a good deal of destructible property of my own and 
others, but no one was allowed to enter them. So I saw (on 
Sunday morning) the fire eating its way straight toward 
my deposits, and millions of others with them, and thought 
how I should like it to have them wiped out with that red 
flame that was coming along clearing everything before it. 
But I knew all was doing that could be done, and so I took 
it quietly enough, and managed to sleep both Saturday and 
Sunday night tolerably well, though I got up every now 
and then to see how far and how fast the flames were spread- 
ing northward. — Dr. Holmes to John Lothrop Motley, 
Nov. 16, 1872. {Life and Letters of Oliver Wendell Holmes, 
by John T. Morse, Jr., vol. ii, p. 197.) 

[ 157 ] 



The Freeman's Bank sent their charred bills and papers to 
the Treasury Department in Washington where, by the deli- 
cate processes employed there, many items were restored or 
deciphered. Through the honesty of its depositors the bank 
received vouchers for its entire loan, and the only suit grow- 
ing out of the destruction of the safe concerned a firm that 
was mistaken, but not dishonorable. This suit was amicably 
settled by the deciphering of the disputed item at the 
Treasury Department. 

[ 158 ] 



The following cities and towns sent steam fire engines to 
Boston on November 9 and 10: Cambridge (3), Charles- 
town (2), Chelsea, Somerville, Medford, West Roxbury (2), 
Maiden, Hyde Park, Newton (2), Watertown, Lawrence, 
Lynn (2), Salem (2), Worcester (2), Melrose, Waltham, 
Stoneham, Fall River (2), New Bedford, Providence, R. I. 
(3), Portsmouth, N. H., Manchester, N. H. (2), Norwich, 
Conn. (2), New Haven, Conn. All of these engines did duty 
at the fire with the exception of Metacomet No. 3 of Fall 
River, which was returned without being unloaded from 
the cars. The first outside assistance to arrive was Niagara 
Steamer No. 3 of Cambridge, at 8.15 Saturday evening; the 
last to report was H. M. Welch Steamer No. 2 of New 
Haven, which ended its long run in the Boston railroad 
yards shortly before midnight on Sunday. 

In addition to the above, two steamers were present from 
the Navy Yard in Charlestown and one from the Water- 
town Arsenal. Wakefield sent two hand engines, and Brook- 
line and Reading one each. A number of out-of-town hose 
companies also reported in Boston, one of these from Bid- 
deford, Maine. 

The closing of the telegraph offices throughout New 
England in the early evening was a serious handicap to the 

[ 159] 


Boston authorities. The fire was visible from Nashua, 
and an engine was housed in the freight sheds there in ex- 
pectation of a call which never came. A Taunton engine 
was in readiness for the special train bringing help from 
Fall River; but through some misunderstanding this train 
went through the city without stopping. Lowell and New- 
buryport received no call for aid. Portland forwarded an 
engine as far as Portsmouth, where word was received that 
its services were not needed. 

Mr. Grenville H. Norcross, whose father was the first 
treasurer of the Summer Street Fire Fund, has kindly fur- 
nished the following memorandum upon the disposition of 
outside financial aid : — 

The fire was hardly under control when the Relief Com- 
mittee was formed and a large sum was soon contributed to 
help those who had suffered by the fire as well as the families 
of firemen injured in the discharge of their duty. Large 
amounts were sent or promised by Detroit, Chicago, Phila- 
delphia, and other cities. By February, 1873, it became evi- 
dent that sufficient money was in the Treasurer's hands to 
meet all proper claims without calling for aid from other 
cities, and accordingly the sums already sent were gratefully 
returned, with the interest received on them while on deposit, 
and the promised aid was thankfully declined. 

The fund in aid of the families of injured firemen is still 
being used for that purpose ; a balance of some twenty thou- 

[ i«o ] 


sand dollars of the general relief fund was used for many 
years by the Committee to supply Boston working men who 
had lost them by fire, with sufficient tools to obtain work 
again. In 1907, under authority of the Legislature and the 
Supreme Court, the balance was turned over to the Massa- 
chusetts Charitable Fire Society, which now carries on the 
same good work, and the Summer Street Fire Committee 
ceased to exist. 







M U R D O C K